Three years ago, it was Andy Murray dominating a dramatic build-up to the Australian Open. He broke down in tears and left the room in his pre-tournament press conference and returned to announce he feared his career was over.
Tournament organisers even played a farewell montage of tributes from fellow superstars Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Serena Williams after he lost a typical five-set epic with Roberto Bautista Agut.
Now, after missing the last two Australian Opens because of a pelvic injury and Covid, he is back at Melbourne Park with his new metal hip and the old glint in his eye. The Scot reached the final of the Sydney Tennis Classic on Saturday and is playing his most consistent tennis for years.
“It’s nice not waking up every morning and just constantly being in pain,” he said. “That’s obviously a nice, nice feeling to have. I know that the end could be any time really now. So yeah, I’m just trying to make the most of every opportunity in terms of my performance and the results.
“Whereas in 2019, like, it’s a good job I didn’t win that match but I wouldn’t have been able to play the next round.”
That Monday evening in the emotional Melbourne Arena seemed like a fitting farewell for the three-time Major champion after struggling with his hip since 2017.
“Before I spoke at the press conference, I was unbelievably anxious about it,” he recalled. “All of those emotions had been building up for quite a long time. And I’d had conversations with my team in the offseason and my family and everything. And I was like: ‘I’m going to stop after the Australian Open. I am just hating this, not enjoying it at all, my body’s killing me and I can’t compete properly either’.
“From that night, I just remember this incredible atmosphere. I’m still surprised that I was able to perform like I did with the lack of practice and preparation, and how bad my body was feeling at the time. It’s a great memory.
“The support and everything that I got from players and the public, it helped me a lot, because I was struggling at that moment, mentally and physically. It helped cheer me up.
“Obviously, it turned out not to be my last match which I’m really happy about but it certainly could have been. It would have been fine. It would have been a good, good way to finish.”
After gushing tributes about his career, Murray had his hip resurfaced that month and showed he was not finished by winning the European Open in October.
“Some of that was obviously my own doing,” he said. “Maybe I didn’t articulate myself well in the press conference.”
So how does Murray, now 34 with four kids and 46 ATP Tour titles, want to finish now?
“I haven’t thought about it,” he claimed. “Some people want to stop when they have a great result, or they want to stop at their home tournament, or they just don’t enjoy traveling, or they have different priorities.
“For me, it, you know, is becoming harder, like leaving the family. Obviously, if I had another injury again which was going to be like a long rehab, or something happened to the hip, that’d be the end”
But Murray, who faces world No.23 Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round on Monday, added: “Physically, now I’m in a pretty good place. Making the final last week was really good for me. And we’ll see what happens here.”