Only Labradors love chasing a tennis ball more than Sir Andy Murray.
He continues to thrill and grind, and every time he defies logic on the court, you feel Britain adores him even more than thought possible.
Thursday afternoon in the UK was another occasion when we were gripped by Murray once again as he played his marathon five-set match against Thanasi Kokkinakis in Melbourne. The experience of watching him claw his way back from two sets down thousands of miles away against someone nine years his junior blurred nostalgia, hope and the thrill of the pleasant spectacle. But above all, there were the familiar emotions prompted by his fortitude: something along the lines of pride and admiration.
He was playing a day ahead of the UK, but his mind has always been a step in front of the rest of us.
Murray could’ve called it a day back in 2019. No one would’ve thought less of him. They played the retirement montage at John Cain Arena after his first-round defeat to Roberto Bautista Agut at that year’s Australian Open. His hip was in pieces. He had a foot and a beaten body already a step through the door of retirement.
As he took time away to have hip resurfacing surgery, his first goal was to be pain-free enough to walk up the stairs. Then he saw that old, mangy tennis ball in his house and took a racket to it. That wasn’t so bad. So he returned to training and the hip held up. Singles? Perhaps too much — so it was doubles first. That worked. So it was back to singles again, and by August 2020 he was back in the US Open first-round draw. Confounding experts and armchair critics alike, there he was, the part-mechanical marvel back on the court, the body granting him an unexpected epilogue.
And so four years on from that match against Bautista Agut — it was one where you focused on every single minute detail, trying to take snapshots of the final throes of the match, believing it to be his last — we’re back here again, with Murray up against the same opponent in the third round of the Australian Open.
This run is no fluke. Murray felt good coming into the tournament, and spent the preceding weeks in his own tennis boot camp in Florida working with Ivan Lendl. He was relatively pain-free and confident. But given the fragility of tennis’ relationship with fate, we were one backhand away from never being granted…