Old Man Murray?
Nick Powell takes a look at Murray’s recent misfortune on court and his likelihood of success in the twilight years of the Scotsman’s stellar career.
There are few athletes that I have ever admired more than Andy Murray. The Scot, now 34, has not just had incredible achievements on the court – with two Wimbledon titles and an Olympic gold amongst the three greatest men’s tennis players there have ever been – but a fighting spirit and determination that have made him such a brilliant, if at times frustrating, athlete to follow and support.
But anyone who has been closely following the former World Number 1 will know that soon after he achieved that feat for the first time, he was beginning to be plagued by a hip injury that finally reared its ugly head a year after his second triumph at Wimbledon, and this has spelt the end of any realistic hopes that he will add any more to his tally.
This year’s Wimbledon marked the first time since that injury that Murray had progressed beyond the second round of a grand slam. Physically, Murray is not the player he once was. His ability to dart round the court, return almost any speed of serve and grind down his opponents with a combination of brilliant defence and clinical but controlled attacking shots has been irrevocably damaged by his injury, and while he has shown glimpses of his old self, his defeat against Dennis Shapovalov showed he cannot sustain this over the course of a tournament.
It was his victories in the first two rounds, against Nikoloz Basilashvili and Oscar Otte, that ultimately left him physically shot. In the latter he was on court for well over four hours and covered 6.5km of court space in the victory, nearly double what Novak Djokovic had covered on the same day in his victory over Kevin Anderson.
Indeed, there was a clear sense when watching him that he was not going to be able to bring such physicality to the following match in round three, that his brilliant victory would surely be his last memorable moment of this year’s championship. Perhaps that’s what made it so special. The crowd knew that, despite it only being the second round and Otte being a qualifier, Murray had to battle as hard as he did for this victory in any of his great grand slam quarter, semi or final victories.
It was wonderful to watch him fighting for every point, battling from behind and inspiring the crowd around him. That brilliant but frustrating quality that I referenced earlier was on full display, and the atmosphere reflected the drama of the see-saw match. Whether it was delicate drop shots, powerful forehand passing shots or stunning backhand lobs, it was, as BBC Sport commentator Andrew Cotter described, like watching “the Murray of old”.
We will hopefully see plenty more of these kinds of wins before Murray hangs up his racket but they are, in a sense, just illusions, memories being played out before your eyes, if you will. He will never string together a long enough run to win a competition off the back of one of these victories and as a result whilst we can enjoy these wins this does not amount to a late career resurgence, such as that of cyclist Mark Cavendish, or perhaps more relevantly, Roger Federer’s three grand slam victories in 2017 and 2018 having not won one for five years prior.
“Murray may not reign again, but we should enjoy his farewell tour”
That sad reality does not mean these wins cannot be enjoyed though. Until Murray eventually tires of playing, he will fight for every point he can, and though he will not win any more Grand Slams, Masters or Olympic titles, he will continue to show flashes of brilliance and we should celebrate each and every one of them. Murray’s days of greatness may be over, but that does not mean he will not have more great days to come and while we can still watch him, we should savour every second.