The setting was the idyllic isle of Key Biscayne across the bay from Miami, but Andy Murray knew there was trouble in paradise.
It was nearly mid-December and the 31-year-old Scot had been practicing with Spain’s Fernando Verdasco, when the realisation dawned that he had probably reached the end of the road.
The chronic hip condition that he has been trying to manage for more than 18 months was, if anything, getting worse. This time no amount of bloody-minded determination was going to get him through.
Andy Murray broke down in tears on Friday as he announced his imminent retirement
Murray hopes he can prolong his physical descent to the farwell he longs for at Wimbledon
Half an hour after Friday’s tearful press conference, Murray sat in a side room at Melbourne Park and opened up about his physical descent which, at best, might just see him continue on to the farewell he longs for at the All England Club.
‘After I practiced with Verdasco I told my team in the locker room, like “This is it, I need to know when this is over”,’ revealed the double Wimbledon champion.
‘I didn’t lose the practice heavily. It was something like 7-5, 4-3. My hip was hurting and I was in pain. As the practice went on, it was getting worse and I was thinking “I can’t do this. What I am doing this for?”
‘I had tears in my eyes and said “My hip is killing me. I shouldn’t be continuing to go through that for nothing any more”.
‘The same sequence was happening — as soon as I started to increase my tennis load and play matches, the pain gets worse and my performance drops and I have to take a rest for a few days. It was enough.’
Murray revealed it was during a practice session last month that he made his mind up
It was against Verdasco at September’s US Open, when he fought hard for well over three hours, that Murray looked like he had some prospects, at least in the medium term.
Now it is possible that the future will not extend beyond Monday. Murray still felt it was worth making this trip to Australia, but it will be his last visit as a player, barring a miracle.
Right until the end this has been a continent of disappointment for Britain’s finest tennis player, the place where he reached five Grand Slam finals and lost all of them. His failure to add the Australian Open to his collection might be a rare subject of regret for Murray.
He will otherwise head towards retirement satisfied he gave everything he had to compete in the ferociously tough era it was his misfortune to be born into.
He brought the same attitude to trying to manage the chronic hip condition which first began to plague him during the early summer of 2017 and led to surgery almost exactly a year ago.
The chronic hip problem that Murray has been nursing the last 18 months has worsened
‘I had been advised after having the hip operation that things can improve after up to a year to 18 months,’ he said. ‘I was advised to wait and see how that goes.
‘I went off to Philadelphia this summer and did different rehab. It helped and improved things to a point, but my hip doesn’t recover from matches or training any more.
‘There hasn’t been a day when I haven’t spoken to somebody about my hip in 18 months, it’s draining. I don’t want to stop playing tennis just now, I don’t feel ready for this, the rest of my body feels perfect. That’s the hard thing about it.
‘It’s not like I wake up and my whole body’s sore and it’s too much. It’s just one problem that can’t be fixed.’
While Friday was not officially the end, Murray was comfortable enough with taking an initial look back on his career, and he cited two particular highlights from what is a wealth of choice.
The first was winning Wimbledon in 2016 for the second time, partly because he allowed himself to enjoy it. The other was carrying the team flag at the Rio Olympics, where he clinched a second gold medal.
Murray told his team in the locker room that he could not longer go through the pain barrier
Murray’s failure to add the Australian Open to his collection might be a rare subject of regret
He was brutally honest in using the great athlete’s classic refrain that nothing in future will equal the exhilaration of competing on the biggest stages.
‘You can’t — well maybe you can by taking certain substances — but you cannot recreate the high of winning Wimbledon or winning a Davis Cup,’ he said.
‘As much as the lows like losing here for a fifth time hurt, I always had that as a motivation. Even in the low points it was something that gave me drive and motivation to get up and work hard.
‘I don’t anticipate being able to replace that and again that’s something that maybe when I finish I will be happy, living a more stable life, but I don’t think I will be ever able to replace the highs and lows tennis has given me.’
Whenever the last match comes, be it next week or — less likely — in July, he will contemplate surgical options, which could include having his hip ‘resurfaced’.
Whenever the last match comes he will contemplate surgical options for his troublesome hip
‘It was not something I was thinking about until a week ago. I was planning on playing through until Wimbledon.
‘I said I think I can manage this because I have been playing through pain for a long time and there’s no reason I can’t do it for another five months, knowing there’s an end point.
‘But when I got here I thought I am tired of it and don’t really want to have another five months of that pain. That’s when I started discussing having something like that done.
‘I would seriously consider having an operation because day-to-day life is not fun. I can’t do stuff I would want to do, even if I wasn’t a professional athlete. I want to go and play football with my friends or go and play 18 holes of golf and enjoy doing that.
‘Look, at the end of the day, it is only tennis, it’s just a game. Whatever. There is more to life. For many reasons, it’s been more than that for me. Obviously stopping the way it’s happened doesn’t sit particularly well with me. It’s not how I would want to finish playing.’
Murray is sure to feel anchor-less right now, but he will not be short of options in retirement
Having focused on little but optimising his tennis since the age of 11, Murray is sure to feel anchor-less right now, but he will not be short of options. With a natural curiosity and high emotional IQ he will make a brilliant coach or commentator.
He also has his own management company and is a keen investor in start-up companies, but he will never excel at anything like he did in his wily, incredibly athletic, counter-punching way of wielding a tennis racket.
If Murray is utterly irreplaceable for British tennis, his imminent departure from the sport also leaves a hole in the world game. It is the first real fragmentation of what has been a golden era among the ranks of the men.
That Murray was able to crowbar his way into a freakishly talented group that became known as the Big Four was the ultimate achievement.