For love of the game

Disappointment was evident in Andy Murray’s face as he went about dissecting his third-round exit from the Australian Open yesterday. He had no illusions about hoisting the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, and not because of the lengths unseeded competitors typically face in major championships. That said, he looked forward to making the second week of the year’s first Grand Slam tournament. He figured the work he had put in as he prepped for his stint Down Under set him up for a fruitful outcome.

As things turned out, Murray did not have enough in his tank to meet his quarterfinal-round objective. Perhaps he was simply too bushed to be at his best against Roberto Bautista Agut, what with his previous two matches both going the full route and keeping him on the court for a combined 10 hours and change. Arguably, he had no business even being at the Margaret Court Arena; he was a match point down against Matteo Berrettini in his opener, and two sets and two games down with hometown favorite Thanasi Kokkinakis serving for the win. For a survivor of two hip operations, it may have been a stretch to expect him to once again snatch victory from the throws of defeat.

Four years ago, Murray was given a farewell video tribute by Australian Open organizers who believed him ready to put his racket to storage. And as he bid goodbye to spectators at the John Cain Arena, he himself deemed his one-and-done appearance to be his last. Ironically, Bautista Agut was also who sent him packing then. This time, around, though, there are no thoughts of retirement coming with the defeat. His metal covering has held up well: It was supposed to help him walk pain-free; instead, it has enabled him to compete at the highest levels of the grueling sport anew.

That said, it’s fair to contend that Murray is closer to the end of a storied career. He has long had nothing left to prove, and if he’s still around, still plodding on, it’s because of sheer love of the game. And for his first two contests of 2023, the game loved him back. As he said, “I have a big heart.” Fans can only hope it continues to beat proudly for some time to come.

Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.