The year was 2012. There was not a single dry eye at Wimbledon’s Centre Court, arguably the most famous tennis site in the world. Britain’s hero Andy Murray lost a heartbreaking final against Roger Federer, a man who had, at that point, already won the crown a record six times.
It was a fairy tale run to the final. That in itself was already an achievement as Murray was the first Briton to reach the last two in Wimbledon since 1938, and the whole England—make that the whole world—waited with bated breath if he could continue that improbable streak all the way to the title.
Of course he had to derail the Federer Express. But despite a herculean effort and after an agonizing three and a half hours of battle on the historic grass, Murray emerged, head bowed, shoulders slumped, defeated. He could barely hold back the tears as his voice broke during the awarding ceremony. His beautiful fiancée, Kim Sears (now his wife) was a picture of heartbreak as she brushed tears from her face.
Such a painful loss in the world’s most prestigious Grand Slam would permanently break a lesser man. But not Andy. His win at the U.S. Open just a few months later became a stunning vindication of his potential.
Despite this, the weight of that Federer defeat was still on Murray’s shoulders as he progressed in the very same tournament the following year, so much so that it felt almost anti-climactic. Suddenly, Britons were wary of getting their hopes too high—unless they suffer the same heartache of 2012. He was, after all, facing off with an equally determined Novak Djokovic, already a multiple Grand Slam winner at that point.
But their boy delivered. He resolutely chased ball after tennis ball, his shot-making sublime, and movements almost effortless in their balletic grace. And finally, he stood on the winner’s podium, a champion about seven decades in the making. He defeated the relentless Serb in straight sets, 7-4, 7-5, 6-4.
And despite Federer, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal still in their prime, Britain was suddenly on top of the world. And to prove that the win was no fluke, Murray would go on to win another Wimbledon title in 2016, cementing himself as one of what turned into the Big 4 of men’s tennis.
Andy would go on to win several other tournaments over the next year, but would take much of 2018 off the courts as he underwent hip surgery in January. It would take almost the rest of the year for strengthening and rehab.
Suddenly, all eyes and expectations were on him for a resurgent 2019.
Then came the shock announcement. After months of therapy and training, he revealed, on the eve of the season-opening Australian Open, that he was playing through intense hip pain. It made even sedentary activities like putting on his shoes and socks, or walking the dog (one of his favorite pastimes) an excruciating exercise. And that he was looking toward an early retirement from the sport at the very young age of 31, probably after Wimbledon, but perhaps even as early as after Melbourne.
The world was stunned. Not only was it facing the threat of losing one of its greatest players—and arguably one of the greatest British players of all time—it was also about to lose a staunch advocate of women and feminism. Having been born, raised and coached all his life by a strong female figure in his mother Judy, and coached later on by a former top women’s player in Amelie Mauresmo, Andy has had to endure criticism and prejudice relating to his choice of coaches. Not only did his victorious results on court prove him right, he was also consistent in his argument for women players to receive equal prize winnings and equal court time in the show courts to their male counterparts. The sport is all the better because of him.
Last week, on Rod Laver Arena, the indefatigable Scot soldiered through the pain, eventually succumbing to Spaniard Roberto Bautista-Agut in an excruciating five sets in the first round. (He stretched it into a deciding set, heroically coming back from two sets down, but succumbed eventually 2-6 in the last frame.) It was a magnificent and noble defeat.
So what’s next for Andy Murray? Countless sports stars, not just from tennis, have reached out to him with words of sympathy and support. But more relevant are those urging him to not quit. Former world number 1 Boris Becker has urged Murray to consider undergoing another hip surgery. Tiger Woods, who has suffered through what could be any athlete’s longest slump, has experienced a resurgence of form since having several back surgeries. That should be a tantalizing prospect for Andy, who is significantly younger than Roger, Rafa and Nole, the latter two being the finalists of the year’s opening major.
One thing is for sure, though. The tennis world will never be the same without Andy Murray—a world champion who would be forced to retire in his prime. Fingers crossed, though, for his rivals and fans alike. Britons, after all, are world renowned for their indomitable fighting spirit. Say it ain’t so, Andy!
Manny de los Reyes writes about cars but his only sporting passion is tennis. He was an active age grouper in his teens and counts himself fortunate to have watched Andy Murray play twice live—in the 2010 Australian Open and the 2016 French Open, both in the semifinals.