The National -- The tributes and outpouring of support have said it all. Tennis players past and present have used their social media platforms and Australian Open press conferences to stand alongside Andy Murray after the greatest British player of the modern era announced his impending and premature retirement.
A career that has included three grand slam titles – two of them historic – a pair of Olympic gold medals – again, more history – a combined 45 ATP titles, and a spell at the top of the rankings is to be cruelly cut short. After nearly two years battling a chronic hip injury, Murray has been forced to decide that enough is enough.
The end could come as soon as this week at the conclusion of Murray’s Australian Open campaign in Melbourne, which given he faces the accomplished world No 23 Roberto Bautista Agut in the opening round, is likely to come at the first hurdle.
For Murray’s sake, he will hope to hang up his racket (partially) on his own terms. His plan is to walk away after Wimbledon – the venue of his most memorable achievements and where his legacy has been forged. However, limping on for another six months, he admitted, might be beyond his ailing body.
Whether it happens this week or in July, Murray will likely be in no mood to reflect. After all, he is just 31 and should have at least another three or four seasons at the top. Perhaps another major title or two in the trophy cabinet.
But when the time does come to take stock, Murray will be able to look back on a groundbreaking career that, eventually, earned him the hero-level status he always deserved from British sports fans.
A few sarcastic comments about supporting England’s opponents at football’s World Cup in 2006 were long held against him by a petty minority, while his monotone voice and introverted personality had Murray pegged as dull and dour.
Over the next six years, Murray was well on his way to becoming one of his country’s finest athletes, but it was his emotional defeat to Roger Federer in the 2012 Wimbledon final when public perception started to turn.
Weeks later, Murray had won over all but the bitterest of critics when he returned to Centre Court to dismantle Federer and win Olympic gold. It was the start of what proved to be a historic year.
The first slice of history was created at the US Open when Murray became the first British man to win a grand slam title in 76 years, beating Novak Djokovic in the most dramatic of five-set classics.
Then of course, there was the defining moment of his career – indeed one of the most defining moments in British sport: the 2013 Wimbledon title. A more straightforward victory over the Serb this time but no less tense. The home nation had waited since 1936 for a male champion before Murray delivered.
In 2015, Murray then led Britain to their first Davis Cup title in 79 years, winning all of his 11 matches, before creating more history the following season by becoming the first player to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals. Weeks before that, a second Wimbledon trophy was secured.
It was also in 2016 when Murray embarked on the finest run of his career, which culminated in him becoming the first British man to top the world rankings. He would end the season by winning the ATP Finals for the first time.
For a player who operated largely in the slipstream of the greats of his era – Rafael Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic – Murray’s success ensures he has firmly earned his place in the annals of tennis history.
There will be myriad emotions Murray will experience after he has played his final competitive match, but thankfully the worst of them all will be avoided: regret. Murray will ride off into retirement safe in the knowledge that he has squeezed out every last drop of his talent.
Perhaps he is not leaving on his own terms, perhaps there are more trophies that could have been won, even more history created. But his impact on the game and on British sport in general, will never be forgotten.
Of all the tributes that have flooded in, it was the one from Wimbledon that said it best: “To Andy, whatever happens next, you’ve done more than you know.”