Murray is still searching for answers
One thing you should know about Andy Murray: he does not find it easy to make decisions. At least, not unless they are split-second calls on whether to play a drop shot or drive the ball deep into the corner.
This could become an issue in the coming weeks, as Murray wrestles with one of the hardest choices of his life. Should he retire, either after the US Open or at the end of the season, or fight through to next year’s Wimbledon?
You only have to look at his recent comments to see how conflicted he is.
After beating Nikoloz Basilashvili on Monday, Murray told the Centre Court crowd that he did not understand why people kept asking him if this was his last Wimbledon. “I’m enjoying it,” he insisted. “I can still play at the highest level.”
But then, in a chat with the BBC on Saturday morning, he projected a very different mood. “I just need to weigh everything up,” he told Rishi Persad, “and see if everything I am putting into it is worth it [because] I really didn’t play to the level I would like.”
Objectively, this final judgment was absurdly harsh on himself. Murray had barely held a racket, let alone swung one in anger, since picking up a mysterious and so-far undiagnosable groin issue in March. But then, without his grouchy perfectionism, he would never have become such a legend of British sport.
In reality, Murray’s Wimbledon was an unqualified success. To arrive with just two wins at the majors in the last four years, and then beat the world No 28 in your opening match is a feat in itself. To back it up with a magnificent five-set comeback in round two was more than anyone – especially those lucky enough to be present on one of Centre Court’s most tumultuous nights – could have expected.
Andy Murray's singles record since returning from groin injury
As for Friday’s date with 10th seed Denis Shapovalov, the 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 scoreline might have added up to the heaviest defeat Murray had ever suffered at Wimbledon. But then, as Shapovalov admitted afterwards: “I don’t think I can play any better than that.” Even in 2016 – the year Murray won Wimbledon for a second time – he would have found it difficult to cope with such relentless artistry.
Why, then, does Murray sound so dejected? One theory is that he wants everyone to write him off, so he can use the media’s collective scepticism as motivation. If a scientist could only synthesise his ability to turn doubt and criticism into fuel, the global energy crisis would be solved overnight.
I believe that he is simply expressing his emotional weariness after a draining period. The last time he drew real satisfaction from his career was when he won Antwerp in October 2019.
Looking ahead, one wonders whether Murray should focus on replicating that wonderful week, rather than trying to peak at the grand slams. With his ranking now moving in the right direction – he needs only one more win to return to the world’s top 100 – he will find it easier to enter events without the need for wild cards.
Murray cut a conflicted figure following his Wimbledon exit
Here is a statistic worth thinking about. On the ATP Tour, where you need only two sets to win a match, the average duration is 90 minutes. At the best-of-five-set majors, that figure climbs steeply to 2hr 45min. And even with a rest day in between, the extra strain on a man with a metal hip is unsustainable.
The slam format is unforgiving for older players, and for those mavericks – such as Nick Kyrgios, who was invalided out of Wimbledon on Saturday with an abdominal strain – who rely on inspiration rather than perspiration.
But these are the parameters that Murray must operate in, and they are not going to change. So it might be time to shift that mentality. He should treat the majors as an exhibition space, looking for the kind of one-off, early-round thrillers that the ageing Lleyton Hewitt once specialised in. And hope to snatch a few more titles further down the pyramid.
During a lunchtime debate on the BBC on Saturday, Billie Jean King made a familiar, yet valid point: “I just wish he would be more aggressive.” But that has never been Murray’s natural game, and attacking becomes even harder when you are slower to the ball.
John McEnroe replied by saying: “Andy is in the top six to eight movers ever. He won a lot of matches that way. But his style is more reactive than proactive and playing that way is extremely difficult to do if you feel you’ve lost a little half or quarter step.”
This run to the third round could be seen in several different ways. On the one hand, it does suggest progress: the first singles victories Murray has claimed at Wimbledon since his hip originally blew up in 2017. And all the emotion should give him something to feed off when he returns to his punishing rehab schedule in the gym.
On the other hand, he could tell himself that this was an honourable way to finish, and that the magnificent atmospheres of Monday and Wednesday night have already justified the superhuman efforts he has made to get back on court, even if he never plays here again.
Perhaps medical science will have the final word, because his metal hip was never intended to withstand the rigours of singles tennis. But the way he waved to the crowd on Friday lacked the sense of finality that Serena Williams had shown earlier in the week.
If Murray has yet to reach a decision, then it is even harder for us camp followers to second-guess his plans. Still, if I were a gambling man, I would guess that he will be back, tilting at Wimbledon’s windmills, for one more wild ride next summer.