Struggling to hold back tears, the 31-year-old Scot said that the continuing pain from what he described as his “severely damaged right hip” had led him to decide to end his career this year. He said that he had been planning to make this summer’s Wimbledon his farewell tournament, but feared that he might have to bring down the curtain before then.
He explained: “In my training block in December I spoke to my team and told them: ‘I cannot keep doing this’. I needed to have an end point, because I was playing with no idea when the pain was going to stop. I felt like making that decision.
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“I said to my team: ‘Look, I think I can get through this until Wimbledon.’ That’s where I would like to stop playing, but I am not certain I am able to do that.”
Murray, who on Thursday saw John O’Donnell, the Melbourne-based surgeon who operated on his hip in this city 12 months ago, confirmed that he would play in next week’s tournament.
“I can still play to a level, but not a level I am happy playing at,” he said. “It’s not just that. The pain is too much really. I don’t want to continue playing that way. I think I have tried pretty much everything I could to get it right and that hasn’t worked.”
Asked if he thought next week’s tournament might be his last, he said: “There’s a chance of that, for sure. I am not sure I am able to play through the pain for another four or five months. I have an option to have another operation, which is a little bit more severe than what I have had before. [It would involve] having my hip resurfaced, which will allow me to have a better quality of life, be out of pain.
“That is something I’m seriously considering right now. Some athletes have had that and gone back to competing, but there are obviously no guarantees with that and the reason for having an operation would not be to return to professional sport. It’s just for a better quality of life.”
Murray said he had been in regular communication with Bob Bryan, the former world No 1 doubles player, who had the “resurfacing” operation last summer and has returned to competition this year.
However, Murray stressed that there was “a difference between singles and doubles in terms of the physicality and the movement”. He said he would not consider returning just as a doubles player.
Murray competed in Brisbane last week, but it was evident during his practice match here against Novak Djokovic on Thursday that he was still struggling. He is due to play in the first round of the Australian Open on Monday – in what could well be the last match of his career – against Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut.
Although the former world No 1 has suffered with hip pain for several years, it became much worse in the summer of 2017. It flared up during his French Open semi-final defeat by Stan Wawrinka and he limped out of Wimbledon the following month after losing to Sam Querrey in the quarter-finals. After aborting two attempted comebacks in the following six months he eventually had surgery here just before last year’s Australian Open.
Although Murray started his comeback during last summer’s grass-court season he pulled out of Wimbledon on the eve of the tournament. He eventually played only 12 matches in 2018 – including two on his return to Grand Slam competition at the US Open – before ending his season early.
Murray then spent several weeks in Philadelphia working with Bill Knowles, a “reconditioning coach” who has helped rebuild the careers of a number of athletes in different sports. However, despite all the hard work he has put into his rehabilitation the pain from his hip has not gone away.
“Having the operation last year was to give [the hip] the best possible chance of being better,” Murray said. “I have been playing with hip pain for a number of years. It wasn’t as if it had just started at the French Open after my match against Stan.
“It got to a level where I didn’t recover from that match and pushed it over the edge. Having the operation would hopefully make it as good as possible, but it didn’t help with the pain at all. That is the thing I have been struggling with.
“There are certain things on the court I cannot really do properly now, but the pain is the driving factor. I can play with limitations. That’s not an issue. But the pain is not allowing me to enjoy competing, training or any of the stuff I love about tennis.”
The Scot was emotional from the beginning of his press conference. Asked at the start how he was feeling, he said “not great” before breaking down in tears. He eventually left the interview room to compose himself, returned a few minutes later, apologised for breaking down but confirmed that he was “not feeling good”.
He explained: “Obviously I’ve been struggling for a long time. I have been in a lot of pain for probably about 20 months now. I have pretty much done everything that I could to try and get my hip feeling better. It hasn’t helped loads. I’m in a better place than I was six months ago, but still in a lot of pain. It’s been tough.”
Murray said that a second operation would hopefully improve his future quality of life. “You guys see me running around a tennis court, walking between points,” he told journalists here. “I know it doesn’t look good and it doesn’t look comfortable.
“There are little things, day to day, that are also a struggle. It would be nice to be able to do them without any pain: putting shoes and socks on, things like that. That’s the main reason for doing it.
“If I was to have an operation for that, I would rehab correctly, do it properly to give my hip the best chance of being good as it can be. I am also realistic. I know that’s not an easy thing to come back to or play professional sport to a high level.”
Asked how he had been dealing with the situation on a psychological level, Murray said: “I have talked a lot – way too much – about my hip for 18 months. It’s a daily thing. It isn’t just people I work with that ask me. It’s everyone. Everyone I bump into. That is all I talk about it. It’s pretty draining.
“I have spoken a number of times with psychologists about it, but nothing helps because you are in lots, lots and lots of pain. You cannot do what it is that you want to do, and you love doing. Or I can do it, but it’s not fun or enjoyable doing it any more.
“That is what I have done. I have tried to deal with it, talked about it, but none of that makes my hip feel better unfortunately. I wish it did, because if it did, it would be feeling brilliant right now – but it doesn’t.”