Melbourne, Australia | AFP | Gutsy Andy Murray fought to the end before losing an epic Australian Open farewell match 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-7 (4/7) at the hands of Roberto Bautista Agut Monday.
The Scot, who said he will retire this season because of chronic hip pain, seemed finished at two sets and a break down to the 22nd seeded Spaniard in the first round but somehow battled back to force a fifth set.
“Amazing. That was incredible, thank you so, so much to everyone that came out tonight,” the three-time Grand Slam champion said after being swept along on a wave of vociferous support.
“Honestly I’ve loved playing here over the years. If this was my last match, an amazing way to end. I gave everything I had and it wasn’t enough tonight.”
Murray announced at an emotional press conference on Friday that he would retire at Wimbledon this year, but conceded the Australian Open could be his last tournament, so great have been his injury problems.
But he seemed to have a change of heart after a match in which he showed his fighting spirit had not been diminished.
“Maybe I’ll see you again,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion.
“I’ll do everything possible to try. If I want to go again I’ll need to have a big operation which there’s no guarantees I’ll come back from. But I’ll give it my best shot.”
Murray had entered a raucous Melbourne Arena to a huge ovation as Scottish Saltires and British Union flags were flown while one banner proclaimed: “There will only ever be one Andy Murray”.
The rollicking support lifted him and despite frequently grimacing with pain he moved relatively freely as the Spaniard took the opening set in 50 minutes.
The in-form Bautista Agut had beaten world number one Novak Djokovic on his way to winning the Qatar Open at the start of the month and quickly took the second.
– Big screen tribute –
Bautista Agut broke for 2-1 in the third and just as the end looked like it would come quickly, Murray had the crowd, including mum Judy and brother Jamie, back on their feet after a winner down the line to break back.
“Right, let’s go,” Murray shouted and held to love with an searing ace to nudge ahead 3-2 before forcing a tiebreak which he took 7-5 with a scream of “come on” and a huge fist pump.
Suddenly the comeback was on.
The fourth set went with serve and Murray again proved the tie-break master on the fourth of his five set points — but not before being interrupted as he served to stay in the match at 5-6 by fireworks going off at the nearby Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Once Bautista Agut broke in the fifth, Murray’s resolve finally crumbled and the Spaniard took it 6-2. He will face unseeded Australian John Millman in the second round.
“That was an incredible night,” said Bautista Agut.
“Andy deserves this atmosphere. He gave everything to the last point. I want to congratulate him for all he did for tennis.”
Murray was then shown a big screen tribute from a whole phalanx of top players, including Roger Federer, Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Caroline Wozniacki and Sloane Stephens.
“I’ve been very fortunate — and unlucky — to compete in an era with all those great players around” Murray said.
“To have the respect of your peers is a very special thing.”