Along with Roger Federer, Sir Andy Murray is one of the major absentees from perhaps the strangest Australian Open in history. Of the pair, though, the Scot’s absence is perhaps the most telling. Murray has now missed nine of the last 13 Grand Slam tournaments, and there has to be a concern that 2021 will see the road back to the top closed for good and retirement become a more likely destination. While he misses out in Melbourne due to a positive Covid test, we shouldn't kid ourselves that his body would have been 100 per cent ready anyway.
Two years ago almost to the day, Murray was left in tears on court while the great and the good, his colleagues and friends, commended him for his incredible career by video message. His 2013 Wimbledon win had ended a 77-year wait for a British champion, his 46 ATP titles had proved he was on his day the best in the world, and his humility and passion had won him many plaudits on the circuit. Although he was unable to confirm whether the 2019 Australian Open would actually be his last event, the video was a touching tribute and felt like the final chapter of his tennis career.
But it wasn’t.
Murray, the fighter that he is, never wanted it to end like that. As we saw in the scintillating Amazon Prime documentary ‘Resurfacing’, despite an intense operation on a long-standing hip injury, Murray was, and still is, determined to make it back. He has returned in fits and starts, two efforts at the US Open ended in second round exits, while he hasn’t been seen at Wimbledon since 2017.
So what will count as a successful return for Murray and can it happen this season? Well, he is due to return to action at an ATP challenger tournament in Italy in mid-February, but having only played seven official matches in the entire year of 2020, match fitness and sharpness may take some time to return.
With the French Open to consider in the spring, Murray may target that for his Grand Slam return, but given his heavy defeat to Stan Wawrinka in the delayed 2020 edition, he may be wary of entering if he cannot be competitive. There is no telling whether he is ready for that unless he actually plays, though.
Let’s cut to the chase. As much as we love him, it is clear Sir Andy Murray is never going to win another Grand Slam. His body simply can no longer cope with his intense style of play and, unfortunately for the Brit, those at the top of the game are now levels above him, even in their twilight years. In his last Grand Slam effort, he was a shadow of himself, for all his battle, as he went out to Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime in the second round. A strong performance at Wimbledon would mark a poignant goodbye. We're not talking about reaching the final four, but instead a strong battling display with at least a couple of wins to show for it. That sort of scrap would typify Murray’s career as a whole. He could go out with his head held high rather than with a whimper, as an injury-riddled former great who sloped off without much of a fight.
There is also another caveat to this dream Wimbledon exit, and it is out of Murray’s control. For his ultimate farewell, Centre Court must be packed to the rafters with adoring spectators. His last Wimbledon appearance will be the hottest ticket in town, and he deserves the epic send-off that a full arena could give him.
With this year’s event at SW19 taking place in late June and the vaccination programme in the United Kingdom well underway, there is a possibility that Wimbledon could be played in front of spectators once more. If not, Murray should come back for one last shot in 2022 and his final farewell, if his body allows.
Another dream scenario this summer would be the Tokyo Olympics, as Murray aims to win three gold medals on the trot after his successes in London and Rio. That would be one hell of a way to go out but also seems far-fetched right now, and as proud Brits we’d surely want that very personal send off that only Wimbledon could give him.
The Scot has given us so much over the years. That first Grand Slam win at the US Open in 2012 as the emotion poured out, the epic gold medal won in that perfect summer at London 2012 and his double Wimbledon success. It seems that the best we can hope for him now is that he gets to leave us with one final memory out on the green grass of Centre Court.