Is he done? The headlines say, maybe; history and sentiment say, don’t bet on it. From this keyboard, however, It is inconceivable that Andy Murray will walk away from tennis while there is strength in his 36-year-old legs, power in his whirring racket and the odd tear in his reddened eyes.
If there is a single compelling argument for the best player these islands have produced since Fred Perry to continue into the gloaming of his illustrious career it surely lies in Murray’s almost perverse compulsion to defy all odds, predictions and whispers in tournament watering holes.
He has been doing it at least since 2019, when his body started to fall apart. And, just as important, he is probably dreading the day when it is all over.
Yet, for a few moments at Wimbledon on Friday evening, Murray was inclined to at least wonder if he was approaching the awful moment. He had just lost in the second round of the championships, well aware that he had given a performance not far short of his best in a long while, and it had not been good enough to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas over five sets (the Scot’s favoured fighting distance) in four hours and 40 minutes.
So there he sat – 10 years to the day since he won the first of his two Wimbledon titles at 26 – forlorn and weary, on the flat interview roof of the broadcasting building at Wimbledon, looking into the setting sun as if this had all been scripted in Hollywood.
He should have been proud of his losing effort a few moments earlier, having played wonderfully on what has come to be his personal turf on Centre Court, in a compelling match split over a curtailed Thursday evening and a boiling Friday afternoon. But Murray is not one for false pride. He is painfully honest, the harshest critic of his own work and, crucially, a man swayed as much by his emotions as by a scoreline.
“I don’t know,” he said. What he did not know, or would not say or, indeed, even contemplate, was how long he could keep losing in the early part of big tournaments. These, after all, are the defining proving grounds for his pedigree.
Murray has always judged himself against the best. Since he first played Novak Djokovic at the age of 12 – they were born a week apart – he has had to watch his friend and rival compile 23 slam titles to his own three. Yet he has always considered himself worthy of comparison with the Serb, having beaten him twice in major finals, here and at Flushing Meadows in 2012.
But this is not a numbers thing. It is a wrestling match with his spirit. Murray will go on if the fire is still burning, and it very much was in full flame against Tsitsipas. It was there before a ball was struck and, unless he has had a dramatic shift of perspective, it will be there this morning, next week and for a good few months to come.
Two days before the tournament, Murray confided that he was far from done. And, in what might be a reflection of the contemporary mood, he said it would be the level of his performance as much as his results that determined his path forward.
“I have an idea in my head of when I would like to stop,” he said. “[But] that’s not definitive. It is good to do that so you can start planning a little bit, but I don’t think I would announce anything, like, way ahead of time, because I want to play as long as I can while I’m still feeling good physically and competitive.
“I’m aware, based on how my last five, six years have gone, that things can change very quickly, as well. I’m keeping an open mind. But I do have an idea of when I’d like to stop.”
Murray’s history, his love of Wimbledon and his unspoken fear of saying goodbye suggest he will postpone the inevitable until there is no alternative. He won’t play until he drops (which is what he has done for much of his career), but, like most champions, he wants to go out on his own terms.
“As you get towards the latter stage of your career, you want to make the most of these opportunities because you don’t know how many more times they’ll be here,” he said.
Murray deserves that, at least. After all, who has represented us with more distinction in the first 23 years of this millennium: Steve Redgrave, Jonny Wilkinson, Kelly Holmes, Paula Radcliffe, Joe Calzaghe, Ben Stokes, Lewis Hamilton, Joe Root, Beth Mead?
It hardly matters. They all have been exceptional. Murray, however, has a different relationship with the public and with his sport. He stands apart from all his tennis contemporaries, the only proven and long-term British winner we have known in modern times. We should enjoy him while we can.