Murray played one match in Melbourne, losing magnificently to Roberto Bautista Agut in five sets. And some of us feared this was it, the end of the crazy adventure we had shared for more than a decade.
What happened next might have been written in Hollywood. As his first professional Tour coach, Mark Petchey, got them both through a faltering TV courtside interview, tributes went up on the big screens around the court from Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka and many others.
“How much will you miss all that?” Petchey asked him. Murray kept the door ajar. “That’s something that I’m sure when we finish, when we finish playing, we’ll remain friends.” This was a farewell, unrequested but excruciatingly public. The tournament had all but retired him. Murray had no say in it. He was moved, certainly, but confused. He had momentarily lost control of his destiny.
t was not the end. The desire and ambition that had driven Murray since he was five still burned inside him. It did not die on the court against Bautista Agut. Or even on the operating table.
Murray had a second hip surgery. He did his rehab. He came back. He won a tournament for the first time in two-and-a-half years, in Antwerp. So here he is on the plane again, still ambitious, showing flashes of his brilliant best, but still not entirely comfortable. He cancelled his customary Miami training block to spend Christmas with his young family, and will wave them goodbye on Friday.
When Murray arrives in Sydney to prepare for the ATP Cup, which begins on 3 January and is a high-grade warm-up for the Australian Open, starting on 20 January, there will be no thoughts of the finishing line.