Whenever Andy Murray does indeed retire—and it could be as early as Monday, as he suggested in a teary press conference Friday that the upcoming Australian Open could be his last tournament—the tennis landscape will have lost one of its great pillars, and the tennis culture will be depleted.
First, his on-court achievements: Murray is a surefire, no-doubt-about-it, first-ballot Hall of Famer. A brilliant tactician, he won three majors—shouldering immense pressure with grace to eventually become the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years—two Olympic gold medals and spent 41 weeks as the world's No. 1 player. At his best, he combined remarkable fitness with ruthless consistency, cerebral strategy with a punishing backhand.
Beyond that, we'll lose one of the great gentleman the sport has ever known. Murray may not have been a great public speaker, nor did he ever seek out celebrity, but few players did more to enrich tennis. He was thoroughly decent, profoundly fair, deceptively funny and far more liked and colorful than he was ever given credit for.
He was also refreshingly uninhibited about his emotions, frequently allowing them to spill out during his career. We saw them laid bare when he couldn't quite win Wimbledon in 2012, then returned to the same courts a few weeks later to win Olympic gold on home soil. And we saw them Friday in Melbourne, when he announced what was obvious to the naked eye: that he was far less than 100%, and that his ongoing battle with a nagging hip injury will eventually prove futile.
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Friday's announcement was a sobering reminder of Father Time's undefeated record. He has, finally, unfortunately, claimed his first victim among the original Big Four. We've all suspended our acknowledgement of the aging proccess as Serena Williams and Roger Federer continue to be major forces deep into their late 30s; as Rafael Nadal comes back from injury after injury after injury; as Novak Djokovic—who is exactly one week younger than Murray—dominates as a 31-year-old. But this is a reminder that, while they may run faster and hit the ball harder, they are just as mortal as the rest of us.
You never heard Murray complain about it, but you can't help but wonder what he might have achieved in an era not dominated by three players with a combined 51 majors. Having said that, he always earnestly maintained that having those three titans as competition made him better, more motivated to maximize his potential. That tells you an awful lot about how he approached his job.
Murray will go down as one of the far too many players who had their career cut short by injury. But as you saw from this outpouring of support from other players and members of the tennis community, while his playing days may be numbered, his legacy will live on.