Andy Murray produced a superb fightback in what might have been his final match but eventually lost in five sets to Roberto Bautista Agut in the Australian Open first round.
The Briton, who is hoping to play at Wimbledon, battled brilliantly before losing 6-4 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-7 (4-7) 6-2.
Murray, 31, struggled early on but had the Melbourne Arena crowd roaring as he took the third and fourth sets.”If this was my last match, it was an amazing way to end,” he said.”I gave everything I had – it wasn’t enough tonight.”
Murray, a three-time Grand Slam champion, said on Friday he would retire this year because of a chronic hip problem.However, he did suggest in his on-court interview that there was still a chance he could return to Melbourne.
“Maybe I’ll see you again. I’ll do everything possible to try,” said an emotional Murray after an epic match which lasted four hours and nine minutes.”If I want to go again, I’ll need to have a big operation, which there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to come back from anyway, but I’ll give it my best shot.”
Murray almost produces incredible comeback
Following Friday’s news conference at Melbourne Park when Murray broke down in tears, many expected the Scot would struggle against a player he had beaten in their three previous meetings.
There were signs in the opening few games that the two-time Wimbledon champion could provide a tough contest. Having initially positioned himself nearer the back of the court, Murray moved further forward by the eighth game and earned a break point, which he could not convert.
Spaniard Bautista Agut went on to break his opponent in the next game before taking the set.
Watched on by brother Jamie and mother Judy, Murray’s grimaces were growing in number. He was broken again in the fifth game of the second set as Bautista Agut produced a smash winner, and then served out for a two-set lead. The 22nd seed seemed on course for a routine victory.Murray, typically, had other ideas.
Bautista Agut’s second wind staves off adrenaline-fuelled Murray
Those inside the arena must have believed they were about to witness one of Britain’s greatest sportspeople play his final set of tennis at this tournament and, perhaps, his career.After the Spaniard broke to 15 in the third game of the third set, it seemed the inevitable was imminent.
But Murray’s career has been built on his doggedness, durability and refusal to give in. To use an analogy from one of his favourite sports, the Briton beat the count and punched back by breaking in the next game with a superb backhand down the line.
Another stunning shot helped him save break point in the eighth game and he was close to taking the set in the ninth, only to strike a forehand into the net.
But the groans from many of the 10,000 spectators soon turned into euphoric cheers as Murray took the third set on a tie-break. The Scot shrieked with delight and clenched his fist in a manner we have grown accustomed to since he turned professional in 2005.
Bautista Agut was now playing against a rejuvenated Murray and a partisan crowd. Running on adrenaline, the Scot also took the fourth set on a tie-break.
Was Murray about to deliver one of his greatest and most unexpected comebacks?
He was on top again during Bautista Agut’s first service game of the decider, leading 0-30. But the Spaniard managed to get a second wind in the nick of time to hold before he broke Murray twice en route to sealing victory.
It remains to be seen if his 854th professional match was his last.
Murray’s great rivals pay tribute
During his on-court interview, Murray was shown a video montage of contemporaries, including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, paying tribute to his career.
“I’ve been very fortunate to compete in an era with some of the guys that have been around like Rafa, Roger and Novak.”We’ve had incredible battles and great matches. Tennis fans will remember us when we stop playing.
“To have respect of my peers is most important thing. It’s very nice they took time to do this.”