It’s well within the right of every great athlete to retire in the manner they decide is best for themselves. But that freedom often comes with a caution label.
History is replete with examples of those who waited years too long to say goodbye, such as MLB Hall of Famer Willie Mays, who at 42 years old in 1973 constantly stumbled over himself while his New York Mets were playing in the World Series.
It was also in 1973 when Johnny Unitas, then 40, decided to play an 18th season for the San Diego Chargers. Each of his five games was more regrettable than the other.
There are so many others: Michael Jordan with the Washington Wizards, Brett Favre with the New York Jets, Muhammed Ali vs. Trevor Berbick.
So, there was a general sense of relief when tennis great Andy Murray, just 31 years old, announced he would retire after Wimbledon this summer because of a degenerative hip that has bothered him for nearly two years.
Those who have marveled at his play during his career completely understood it’s likely for the best.
Unless Murray changes his mind, it also set the stage for an emotional and appropriate farewell when his match against Roberto Bautista Agut was coming to an end in the fifth set at the Australian Open.
Down 5-1, Murray took a moment along the baseline and stared into a crowd bathing him with enthusiastic applause. Sensing the moment, Murray raised his racket and took his time acknowledging the sendoff.
“I was emotional,” said Murray after the match. “It was cool. I don’t think I’ve had that before in any matches. I don’t know if when I came to serve at Wimbledon for [the title], I don’t know if that happened. It was brilliant. The atmosphere the whole match was amazing. I loved it. I’m really appreciative that the people gave me that atmosphere to play in. Yeah, I really enjoyed it.”
Sometimes tennis careers are impacted prematurely by tragic circumstances. By 1993, Monica Seles had already won 10 Grand Slams when he was stabbed between the shoulder blades by a fan in Hamburg, Germany. The injury kept her out of the game for three years, and although she would in the Australian Open in 1996, she was never the same.
Most time in tennis, it’s the unforgiving byproduct of repetitive motion on the elbow, feet, knees, back and hips that taps the brakes on careers. Murray’s hip problem already seriously curtailed his schedule and earning power. He doesn’t walk and much as he ambles, his gait seriously compromised, and he had hip surgery last January. And now he faces hip resurfacing surgery and an uncertain post-surgical prognosis.
“If this was my last match, this was a great way to end,” he said. “I gave literally everything I had. It wasn’t enough on this night. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll see you again. I’ll do everything possible to try. If I want to go again, I’ll need to have a big operation where there are no guarantees I will be able to come back from. I will give it my best shot.”
Murray does not have many options and he said he would not dawdle when it comes to making a final decision. Basically, he can rest until Wimbledon and then play or he can relent and have the surgery right away.
Murray has won three Grand Slams, two Olympic gold medals and a Davis Cup. His win at Wimbledon in 2013 ended a 77-year drought for a British men’s champion. Just a few days ago, London’ Evening Standard estimated his net worth at 83 million pounds or approximately $106 million dollars. He does not need the money.“I want to try to play again, I want to improve my quality of life, because even if I take four months, I still can’t walk. I’m still in pain doing just basic day-to-day things,” said Murray. “There’s absolutely no guarantees I’d be able to play again. I’m fully aware of that. It’s a really big operation. But there is the possibility, because guys have done it before. … Some other athletes have given it a go. But, like I said, there’s no guarantees. That’s kind of the decision I have to make, that possibility of not having one more match by having the operation.”
What also seems to nag at Murray is his retirement would prohibit his children, Sophia (nearly three) and Edie (14 months), from ever seeing him compete at a high level.
“I’ll just tell them that I played the sport,” he said. “I would like my daughters to come and watch me play a match, hopefully understand what’s happening before I finish. But I’m aware that probably isn’t going to happen now. I’m a bit sad about that.”