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Dublin: 6 °C Monday 27 January, 2020

Murray's fightback falls short in possible farewell match at Australian Open

The 31-year-old battled valiantly but suffered an emotional defeat to Roberto Bautista Agut in Melbourne.

GUTSY ANDY MURRAY fought to the end before losing an epic Australian Open farewell match 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-7 (4/7), 6-2 to Roberto Bautista Agut on Monday.

Murray, who said he will retire this season because of chronic hip pain, seemed down and out at two sets and a break down to the 22nd seeded Spaniard but somehow fought back to force a fifth set at Melbourne Arena.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DAY 1 Murray fought his way back from two sets down. Source: AAP/PA Images

“Thank you so much to everyone who came out tonight,” Murray said afterwards. “I’ve loved playing here over the years. If this was the last match it was an amazing way to end.”

Murray announced at an emotional press conference on Friday that he would retire at Wimbledon this year, but conceded the Australian Open could be his last tournament, so great have been his injury problems.

But he seemed to have a change of heart after a match in which he showed his fighting spirit had not been diminished.

“Maybe I’ll see you again,” he continued.

“I’ll do everything possible to try. If I want to go again I’ll need to have a big operation which there’s no guarantees I’ll come back from. But I’ll give it my best shot.”

Murray had entered the packed Melbourne Arena to a huge ovation as Scottish Saltires and British Union flags were flown while one banner proclaimed: “There will only ever be one Andy Murray”.

The outpouring of support seemed to lift him and despite grimacing with pain after some rallies he was nevertheless moving relatively freely as the Spaniard took the opening set in 50 minutes.

The in-form Bautista Agut had beaten world number one Novak Djokovic on his way to winning the Qatar Open at the start of the month and he broke again for 4-2 in the second as a hampered Murray began to struggle.

But Murray would not lie down. Watched by mum Judy Murray and brother Jamie he pulled off some vintage magic to win the opening point of the third set with an outrageous half-volley lob over the advancing Spaniard, followed by a deft drop-volley winner at the net.

Bautista Agut broke for 2-1 and just as the end looked like it would come quickly, Murray dug deep and had the crowd on their feet after a winner down the line at the end of long rally to break back.

“Right, let’s go,” Murray shouted and held to love with a searing ace to nudge ahead 3-2 and bring another mighty roar from the crowd.

Murray forced a tiebreak and was never behind, securing it 7-5 with a scream of “come on” and a huge fist pump.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DAY 1 A farewell? Murray acknowledges the Melbourne crowd. Source: AAP/PA Images

Suddenly the comeback was on.

The fourth set went with serve and Murray again prevailed in a tie-break on the fourth of his five set points — but not before being interrupted as he served to stay in the match at 5-6 by fireworks going off at the nearby Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Once Bautista Agut broke in the fifth, Murray’s resolve finally crumbled and the Spaniard took it 6-2. He will face unseeded Australian John Millman in the second round. 

Meanwhile, ageless Roger Federer warmed up for a run at a record seventh Australian Open title on Monday by breezing past Uzbek Denis Istomin in straight sets to book a spot in the second round.

The 37-year-old Swiss master made light of his assignment on Rod Laver Arena to wrap up the match 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 as he confidently began the defence of his title.

Last year’s runner-up Marin Cilic wasted little time in reaching the second round with a 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) win over Australian Bernard Tomic.

Sixth seed Cilic, who lost an epic final in five sets to Roger Federer a year ago, took a shade over two hours to progress on Margaret Court Arena. 

- © AFP 2019

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