Flashback: Andy Murray hits a forehand passing shot in the 2021 European Open.

Advertising

He spends more time dashing from sideline to sideline, chasing after his opponents’ groundstrokes, than he once did. He’s forced to go to his defensive slice a lot, even on his forehand side. He can’t quite match the 100-m.p.h. pace or dive-bombing topspin that his younger and taller opponents put on their shots. He doesn’t howl at an invisible tormentor or bare his teeth quite as often as he once did. When you’re 34, you conserve energy wherever you can.

Such is life for Sir Andrew Barron Murray, 16 seasons and 905 matches into his Hall of Fame career. If he were an iPhone, he’d be up to version 10.0.

It’s been three years since Murray said he’d retire, convinced that his right hip was beyond repair.

It’s been three years since Murray said he’d retire, convinced that his right hip was beyond repair.

It’s been four-and-a-half years since the Scot was No. 1, and three years since he tearfully said he’d retire, convinced that his right hip was beyond repair. While old rival Novak Djokovic continued to pile up major titles in 2021, Murray traveled the pro-tour backroads through Metz, Antwerp, Winston-Salem and Rennes, fighting to survive first-round matches. He finished the year ranked 134th.

At first, Murray said he didn’t need to win Slams to find satisfaction in his late, Lion-in-Winter phase. But high standards die hard for ex-champions, even one with a metal bar in his hip.

“My goal is not to get in the Top 100,” he said in September. “The Top 10 would be more something that would motivate me in terms of a goal. Winning tournaments and getting up towards the top of the rankings is motivating to me.”

Murray has been criticized for taking wild cards that could go to players who don’t have $62 million in prize money to fall back on. And he may want to heed those critics some day. But for now he has earned a leg up. He’s a three-time Grand Slam champion, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and a player fans will pay to see. As his expectations rose in 2021, so did his results: In the fall he beat Jannik Sinner, took Stefanos Tsitsipas to five sets and outlasted Frances Tiafoe, 11 years his junior, over nearly four hours.

Advertising

Winning tournaments and getting up towards the top of the rankings is motivating to me. Andy Murray

Whatever you think of his on-court mutterings, Murray is a role model worth listening to. He promotes women’s tennis, has sung the praises of many WTA players, and has worked with a female coach—while retaining the respect of the male colleagues who may not agree with everything he says. That’s a message and a world-view our sport should be sending to all young players.

By playing on with only scant hope of reliving his past glory, Murray sends another message worth hearing: Not everyone can be Novak Djokovic, but that shouldn’t keep us from competing and expecting the most from ourselves. The fight, as Murray showed in 2021, is the thing.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the men's GOAT race plays out this season. I’m also looking forward to seeing Murray sprint from sideline to sideline in his dogged quest to keep up with the new generation. With Andy, the struggle seems more real, and more relatable, than ever.