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Roger Federer picked up the gauntlet as he dethroned Pete Sampras at Wimbledon. Rafael Nadal challenged the Swiss maestro’s elegance and grunted his way to overtake him in the record books. Then there is Novak Djokovic, who upstaged the duo to cement his legend in tennis.
In the achievements of the Big Three, a common footnote is read. Andy Murray stood toe-to-toe to establish the Big Four but could never crack it. He has three Grand Slams to his name and had he been more proficient in the other eight finals, that would have been the case.
False dawn in 2023
There is no denying the fact that he was the gatekeeper to the Big Three’s success. Judy Murray’s son, Jamie Murray’s younger brother, the Scotsman and the sole hope for British tennis fans post-war. He has his own dedicated fan base, a supporting cast that cheered his run to the Doha finals in early 2023 as it heralded the prospects of what was to come.
Murray did not let them down. He sent caution to his rivals who had started to count him out of the running. While being competent on the ATP Tour, it was in Challenger events that he found his footing. Title thirst was quenched in Aix En Provence Challenger, earning a clay court title since his 2016 Rome Masters triumph. He followed it up with grass court titles in Surbiton Challenger and Nottingham Challenger, ending his seven-year wait for success at home.
Surely, it was promised more to come but the tour took its toll on his health. Playing competitively at 36 is difficult, doing that with a metal hip insert is all the more difficult. Rafa spent the whole of 2023 on the sidelines recuperating from injuries and withdrew from the 2024 Australian Open. Only Roger and Novak have defied age as even the wily-e-coyote Stan Wawrinka finds himself out of the top 100 with age catching up.
Six defeats in a row. Nine losses in his last 10 matches.
This is now comfortably the worst sequence of Andy Murray’s career.
— Telegraph Sport (@TelegraphSport) February 6, 2024
Murray’s battle with father time
As the campaign took its toll, Murray has struggled to get results under his belt. He cannot sustain long rallies and extended games in sets. Shave a set off him and you can force the result in your favour by stretching the play just a little bit.
While in Doha, he won four successive three-setters to book a final appearance against Daniil Medvedev, since then he could only win four matches in extra time after competing in 12. He has not one a deciding set since the start of August 2023, losing six in succession. Moreover, he has not won on the tour since his opening-round win against Yannick Hanfmann in Basel last October, losing six matches on the trot. Andy Murray’s retirement is a realistic proposition.
Losing matches is not a problem. Players lose and then find their rhythm eventually. However, it is the manner in which Murray is losing that is troubling for fans an neutrals alike. He has only won two sets on a tiebreaker since the Canadian Open, being involved in eight. In the same period, he has conceded 7-5 set on five occasions from seven attempts.
It begs the question, when is Andy Murray retiring?
Swan Song in 2024?
At the 2024 Australian Open, Murray teased it would be his final trip Down Under as a professional player. He turns 37 in May and time is running out on him, especially with his body deteriorating and being held by metal parts.
He went on to lose in straight sets to Tomas Martin Etcheverry at Melbourne. It was far away from the hustle and bustle of the Rod Laver Arena, the venue of his five Australian Open defeats. Since then, he has lost in the opening rounds of Montpellier and Marseille. He struggled against Benoit Paire and withered against the youthful Tomas Machac in straight sets.
We are only a handful of tournaments into the 2024 campaign and there is more to come. Fans will surely be disheartened by Andy’s 0-4 record at its start, especially after the way the last year ended. Murray is realistically backing himself with his workload managed and will hopefully bounce back from their poor results.
Murray defied the Big Three and is battling to defy age and his own body. If anyone can do it, Murray can.
Many want him to get out now, when he is still competitive and not a shadow of his former self. Who is to tell these naysayers that he has been competitive and will always be. The fire still burns in him and only he will decide when it is time.
As it stands, he is just going through a rough patch. If he starts claiming the tiebreakers again and closing those tight matches, fans will be wanting for more and chanting that he never gives up.
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