MELBOURNE — Typically the conversation ahead of the start of a Grand Slam tournament is all about predictions as to which player is likely to lift the trophy in two week’s time.
That, however, is not the case regarding the men’s event at this Australian Open. Rather than wondering if top seed Novak Djokovic, second seed Rafael Nadal, third seed Roger Federer or some outsider will capture the first major of the season, the focus is all on the unseeded Andy Murray.
The three-time Grand Slam champion and reigning two-time Olympic gold medalist made a bombshell announcement Friday that his retirement from tennis is imminent. Suffering from a right hip injury for nearly two years, which surgery last year here in Melbourne failed to cure, Murray confirmed the pain is proving to be too difficult to endure any longer.
“I can still play but not to the level I’m happy playing at,” said the 31-year-old, who would like to finish his career at Wimbledon, where he’s been the champion twice. “I don’t want to continue playing that way. I tried pretty much everything that I could to get it right.”
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Murray, who reached the Australian Open final on five occasions, acknowledged that there was a chance that fans will see the last of him playing professionally here in Melbourne.
On Monday, he’ll take on 22nd-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain in the first round. The three previous outings Murray had with Agut all went in his own favor without a loss of a set, but there is concern that his luck might change this time around.
Often spoken of as the best generation of men’s tennis in history, Djokovic, Nadal and Federer weighed in about the soon-to-be departed Murray from their fabulous four club. The discussion was tinged with the reality they are all over 30 now, have all had injuries that have disrupted their careers, and an awareness that any one of them could be the next to go.
Nadal, 32, who has clearly dealt with the most injuries of the foursome during his career, always seems to bounce back. He was adamant Saturday that he’s not ready to hang up his rackets. The 17-time Grand Slam champion’s suffered most frequently from knee problems, and most recently had minor foot surgery in the offseason.
“I didn’t arrive to that point,” he said, when asked if he also should be contemplating retirement. “I am a positive guy. I always had the feeling that we’ll fix it. But I know that tennis is not forever. I want to do it as long as I can and give myself the best possibilities to fight for the things I am passionate about.
“That’s life. So all the best for him,” Nadal added. “We will miss him. Today is him. Tomorrow another one. We are not 20 anymore. Our generation, everyone is more than 30.”
Djokovic, who won the last two Grand Slam titles of 2018 after recuperating from a serious right elbow injury, is one week younger than Murray. The two practiced a few days ago and Djokovic admitted it was easy to see Murray cannot move on court as he did in the past.
“Obviously to see him struggle so much and go through so much pain, it’s very sad and it hurts me as his longtime friend, colleague, rival,” Djokovic said. “I will carry beautiful memories from the court and off the court, as well, with him. As someone that has been through a major injury myself recently, I can probably relate a little bit to what he’s going through.”
Federer, the two-time Australian Open defending champion, who owns a record 20 Grand Slam titles in the men’s game, is the oldest of the foursome at 37. He’s had the least physical troubles of the four, having only lost six months on tour in 2016 after a knee injury, but knows that the end of his career will come sooner than later.
“I definitely feel a little bit of luck,” Federer said. “I think his body took the decision, unfortunately, in this case. I was disappointed and sad, a little bit shocked, to know now that we’re going to lose him at some point. But we’re going to lose everybody at some point. It’s just now that’s a definite.”