Shock Murray retirement call, ‘new Hewitt’ incentive
TENNIS: Andy Murray's career is at a crossroads, with one prominent pundit even suggesting he should consider retirement following an emotional injury admission.
The former world No.1 on Tuesday withdrew from the Brisbane International due to a lingering hip injury, casting grave doubt over his Australian Open involvement.
The announcement was followed by a candid Instagram post in which Murray candidly opened up on his ongoing struggles and signalled the possibility of career-threatening surgery.
The classy post, featuring a picture of Murray as a boy, attracted many messages of support and sympathy among the tennis community.
And it also lead several UK pundits to question whether the 30-year-old three-time grand slam champion would ever be back to his best.
Martin Samuel, writing for the Daily Mail, wrote while it was "too early for the obituary" there was a "beginning of the end feel" to Murray's announcement.
"Murray must fear the best is behind him now, professionally at least. He has never been blessed with the apparent effortlessness of, say, Federer. He got to No 1 through no little skill, but an equal measure of hard work," Samuel wrote.
"Murray flogged himself relentlessly to match Novak Djokovic, to win three Grand Slams, two Olympic gold medals, to rise to the pinnacle of his sport. Even if he returns, it is unlikely he will be of an age, or have the physical capability, to do that again."
Kevin Mitchell, writing for the Guardian, said Murray's career was "very much in the balance".
"Even a generous assessment would not rate his chances of getting back to his best at more than even money. If he does - as he did so spectacularly after gambling on back surgery in 2013 - he will have surprised us all again," Mitchell wrote.
"Beyond argument, Murray is at a crossroads. If he plays at all in Melbourne it will be a result of sorts. If he plays well and loses, with no more than the expected match soreness, he will be encouraged to believe he has a chance of being competitive in the short-to-medium term. If he wins and progresses to the second week, the comeback will be up and running.
"On the other hand, a heavy defeat or suffering physically more than he had anticipated could persuade him to swap sweltering Australia for the comforting fireside embrace of his young family in midwinter Oxshott. Right now, nobody knows which way this fight is going to go, not even Murray."
Oliver Brown, writing for the UK Telegraph, made the surprising call Murray should now consider retirement on his own terms, questioning the Scot's recent claim he would be happy to spend the rest of his career in the world's top 30.
"Rare indeed is the multiple major champion who is content with a professional dotage of losing in the third round, just as airline passengers sipping Krug in first class are loath to go back to slumming it in cattle," Brown said.
"The last occasion Murray was ranked in the thirties was 2006, when his Australian Open adventure extended as far as a straight-sets first-round defeat to Juan Ignacio Chela. Now that he has played five finals in Melbourne, this is not the kind of territory to which he should wish to return.
"Let us consider the great unmentionable. What if Murray retired tomorrow? The body of work - two Wimbledon triumphs, one US Open victory, two Olympic gold medals, Davis Cup champion, 45 career titles and £45 million in prize money - is far in excess of what anybody imagined this once gangly, truculent stripling might accomplish.
"Granted, he might consider himself under par in the slams, as anybody with eight defeats in 11 major finals would. But his is a story that deserves to end with honour, not with several seasons of futile, grinding anonymity.
There is a strength in knowing when your potential has been exhausted."
Brown's Telegraph colleague Simon Briggs, however, argued Murray might well be happy to rebrand himself as somewhat of an underdog, in the same way an ageing Lleyton Hewitt did.
"There is another factor at play here - a factor that we might call the Lleyton Hewitt effect," Briggs wrote.
"This relates to the way a champion player becomes a fan favourite as he or she moves towards the end of their time.
"The instinct of most tennis fans is to cheer for the underdog, and many giants - think Ivan Lendl or Pete Sampras - were never natural crowd-pleasers. But then look at Hewitt or Andy Roddick. Even in their tennis dotage - perhaps particularly then - they drew passionate crowds to the world's biggest stages.
"If Murray stops now, he will miss out on those magical nights under the floodlights of New York or Melbourne, as well as all the goodwill that attaches itself to an elder statesman of the game.
"Hewitt's example is especially instructive, because he grew up as a brash young bruiser who earned a dubious public image around Australia. Two decades later, he has transformed that suspicion into admiration, thanks to the fighting spirit that saw him endure two hip operations of his own."
Murray has not played on the ATP tour since losing to American Sam Querrey in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon last year.
While the Scot has not gone into specifics about his injury, hip expert Robert Marston told the Telegraph it was likely a tear of the acetabular labrum and possibly partially a case of degenerative arthritis.
That would leave a hip replacement as the likely option for Murray, although Marston noted a "return to the very top of tennis following a hup replacement has never been done".