It was a bittersweet Wimbledon return for Andy Murray after four years away from the men's singles as he bowed out in the third round to Denis Shapovalov on Friday in what some suspect might have been his final appearance at the All England Club.
The three-time Grand Slam champion’s return was always likely to be an emotional one following his hip resurfacing operation four years ago, which kept him away from the top of the game for so long, and now at 34 years of age it is clear that we have seen the best of the great Briton. Regardless of how much Murray’s abilities to compete for Grand Slams are now hindered, he has shown this week that he can still entertain in five-set thrillers and heartstopping back-and-forth encounters, which is still a good way to go about the final leg of his career in the sport in front of his adoring fans.
His injuries were always clearly distressing to the Scotsman and they prevented him from reaching the next level of his game (if that was possible). It was always expected that the player who triumphantly won the 2013 and 2016 men’s singles at Wimbledon, wouldn’t be the same again. His metal hip means he cannot move around the court as much as he used to. As seen at Wimbledon and also Queen’s before, he conceded points that the Andy Murray at his peak would relentlessly battle for.
With Murray ageing and his game not being at the levels before his injury woes, he is likely to pick and choose his his battles going forward. Having four children at home now also means time away from the court might begin to appeal more and more, and Murray may opt for shorter lead-ins to Grand Slams, competing in fewer tour events than he might have in his pomp. His fans will be devastated at how his excellent career is ending, but they should take heart from the fact that he is still managing to play after his operation and a lengthy spell out of the sport.
The spectators in the courts and on ‘Murray Mound’ will have taken away from this episode of Murray’s career the positives that he was back on the grass once again and still rewarding his fans with entertaining thrillers. Even Shapovalov praised him for his heroic battle back to fitness after beating him 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 on Centre Court, and the constant shows of admiration from his peers shows just how tough a trot these last four years have been to return to the game.
Murray will dust himself off and get back to work quickly as he heads to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympic Games later in July, looking to defend the gold medals he won in London and in Rio. It would be another wonderful sight to see the Scotsman competing on the Olympic stage again, flying the British flag high. No matter how Murray fares in his final appearances on court, and whether this final chapter lasts weeks, months or years, he has done himself and Great Britain immensely proud with his magnificent career. His supporters and tennis neutrals will need to enjoy what the Scot has left in him, and if this does turn out to be his final appearance at the All England Club at least he can say he went out fighting. We would expect nothing less.