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Wimbledon: Andy Murray, Battling Injuries and Age, Faces Final Call

“I guess I’ll just need to win Wimbledon to shut everyone up.” — Andy Murray to The Daily Telegraph in June 2004

Mission accomplished, although it took nearly a decade for Murray to manage it. He had to scrap and scream through all sorts of tennis trouble before finally putting a halt to all the annual chatter about when a British man might finally win Wimbledon again.

Now, at 37 and at the end of his career — win or lose (or forced to withdraw because of recent back surgery) — he is saying goodbye to a tournament he conquered not once, but twice. Three years elapsed between his first victory in 2013 and his second in 2016, when his proud country rewarded Murray with a knighthood. In that same year, he won his second Olympic gold.

For more than 70 years, the hope that a British man would win Wimbledon had become a tradition in a country that still likes its tradition: a part of the landscape at the well-tended All England Club where Fred Perry had won the men’s singles in 1936, but had long gone without a British successor.

Tim Henman was still the local focal point when Murray emerged in 2005. Henman had reached four singles semifinals by rushing the net, but had always fallen short, handling each setback with a firm handshake and a dignified demeanor.

Murray — a scruffy shock-absorbing baseliner from Scotland — managed the pressure and the project quite differently: muttering, moaning and sometimes swearing between points. But above all, he embraced the challenge as he trundled about the grass with a heavy gait only to move with astonishing quickness once the ball was in play.

He was a prodigy who first played in the Wimbledon junior tournament at age 15 and first played in the main event at age 18, immediately becoming a star by reaching the third round in that 2005 debut.

Murray declared his intentions. He wanted to win Wimbledon, and watching him chase it each summer you could feel how much he wanted to win it. There was no masking the raw ambition and no stopping the tears when in 2012, with his complete game coming together, he lost in the final in four sets to Roger Federer.

“All right, I’m going to try this, and it’s not going to be easy,” Murray said to the crowd after he lost, his voice cracking with microphone in hand.

He did not have to speak again for about 35 seconds as the fans roared their support. When he resumed, he managed a joke about Federer being pretty good for a 30-year-old, thanked his team and family and then broke down again when mentioning the crowd.

“Everybody always talks about the pressure of playing at Wimbledon, how tough it is,” Murray said. “But it’s not the people watching. They make it so much easier to play. The support has been incredible, so thank you.”

Murray did not know it quite yet, but he had turned a corner. Just a few weeks later, on the same patch of grass and dirt, he routed Federer in straight sets to win the 2012 Olympic gold medal.

“The biggest win of my life,” he said.

It was not quite Wimbledon, but it was an extraordinary achievement in a very familiar place.

“The similarity is that it’s at the All England Club, and that it’s against Roger, but other than that, it’s a very different dynamic,” Paul Annacone, a Federer coach, said after that Olympic win. “When Wimbledon is happening, the country stops. But when the Olympics are happening, there are four million other things going on. It’s a different level of expectation, a different level of pressure in my amateur psychologist’s opinion. But I also think Andy is playing every big match better, and I think this victory will help him.”

That proved true. He won his first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open later that summer, defeating Novak Djokovic, his former junior rival and doubles partner, in five grueling sets.

When Murray returned to Wimbledon in 2013, he was ready for the real deal.

“I think both of them obviously will have helped me in different ways,” he said of the Olympic gold and U.S. Open title. “But the Wimbledon final last year was also important for me. There are some shots I would have liked to have changed, but I went for it and kind of lost the match on my terms. I felt I didn’t just sit back and sort of wait. I think that’s maybe why I managed to recover from that defeat well.”

With history on the line in 2013, Murray beat Djokovic in straight sets in the final to end Britain’s 77-year men’s singles drought.

“You needed a tough gritty kid to do it,” Pat Cash, a former Wimbledon champion from Australia, said after Murray won.

Andy and his older brother, Jamie, were coached by their mother, Judy, who had spent a short time on the pro tour. Andy would become No. 1 in the world in singles and Jamie No. 1 in doubles. But her sons might not have had pro careers at all. In March 1996, a gunman and former scout leader shot and killed 16 students and a teacher at the gymnasium of their primary school in Dunblane, Scotland. According to Judy Murray, Andy’s class was on its way to the gym before being turned away.

“At the time you have no idea how tough something like that is,” Andy Murray told the BBC in 2013. “It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started to actually research it and look into it a lot because I didn’t really want to know.”

By the end, Sir Andy’s body started to break down. He had arthroscopic hip surgery in 2018 and then, more radically, hip resurfacing surgery in 2019, breaking new ground for singles players by returning to the tour after that procedure. He has been competitive if rarely triumphant, winning just one singles title, in Antwerp, in 2019.

His tennis legacy was secure more than a decade ago, but perhaps sooner rather than later, the chattering classes at the All England Club will resume wondering when the next British man will win Wimbledon.

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