Ed Curran on Andy Murray's decision to hang up his racket
For the past 15 years, Ed Curran has followed the career of Andy Murray, who announced his retirement at a tearful Press conference yesterday. He says the inspirational former world number one has earned his place in the tennis pantheon
On a gloriously sunny afternoon, I was sitting by the side of Court 15 at Wimbledon, watching Andy Murray testing himself to the extreme. Nearby, his coach, trainer and physio were also watching anxiously as he put his body on the line in his final practice before the 2018 championships.
All around, the stars of tennis were doing the same, but for Murray the moment of truth about his physical wellbeing had arrived.
I remember writing for this newspaper that the experience was akin to assessing a thoroughbred racehorse on its final gallop before the Derby, hoping upon hope that it would not pull up lame.
"I hope I did not witness the last of Andy Murray on that near-deserted Court 15, but only he and his body know what the future holds," I wrote.
From what he said so tearfully in Australia yesterday, it looks now as if this great and gallant Scotsman may never grace the greensward of Wimbledon again, or at least at the level of brilliance he displayed so often to the adulation of the Centre Court.
On that afternoon last July, I remember how driven he was to prove he could still do it. He had deliberately chosen for his final practice the Argentinian Diego Schwartzman, a player with powerful ground strokes, who would stretch Murray from one corner of the court to the other. And so he did.
But on the evidence of this tough hour of hard-hitting tennis, Schwartzman had the edge and the signs were ominous that Murray's troubles with his hip were far from over.
Still, he put on a brave, smiling face to his coaches that day. An hour later, in the Wimbledon interview room, I asked him about his apparent frustration with some of his shots on Court 15.
"I'd like to be playing better," he replied, diplomatically. "I haven't been practising long. I'm competing with the best players in the world and, of course, you notice things that are maybe not quite where you want them to be, or where you remember them being a year ago."
He pulled out of Wimbledon 24 hours later. Much as he wanted to, his body would not allow - and has not allowed since - any return to the Murray of yesteryear.
All around him at Wimbledon last year were amazed that he had even considered playing, but that final hour of hard practice told its sad tale and now we know the ultimate consequences for his future.
I have been privileged to see Murray each year at Wimbledon throughout his illustrious career. In his early years, despite being the United States junior champion, his fitness levels did not match his tennis talent and he seemed to struggle to play more than three sets.
But once he discovered that winning at the top level depended on stamina as well as his undoubted ability, he became harder and harder to beat and more often than not was the victor.
Year after year, the home crowd at Wimbledon gathered more in vain hope than any expectation that any male British player would emulate Fred Perry, whose statue stands in the grounds and will surely now be accompanied by one of Andy Murray.
At best, Britain had Tim Henman, the nearly man who played in four Wimbledon semi-finals but could never reach the pinnacle, which Murray did in 2013 and 2016 in winning the championships and also in winning the 2012 and 2016 Olympics gold medals.
Andy Murray possessed a mental and physical toughness. Ungainly he may have looked on court compared to the finesse of Federer, but he had a never-say-die quality that other British players lacked.
He has also proved a superb role model, immersed in the sport he clearly loves, inspirational and directly supportive to young, up-and-coming players.
Not for Murray the glitzy socialising image of so many of today's rich sports stars. He has gone about his success with impeccable correctness and modest manner.
The question now is whether Wimbledon will ever see the like of him again. That seems unlikely but not as impossible as it was before he came on the scene.
Success in tennis breeds success. Bjorn Borg and Stefan Edberg inspired a generation of fine Swedish players. The Williams sisters have shown that their humble beginnings were no obstacle to their great achievements.
Where great players, like Murray, have emerged in other countries, they have inspired others to follow.
I have a cartoon which was given to me almost 30 years ago after Wimbledon. It shows a tennis fan looking at a news billboard, which reads, 'Rain delays Wimbledon again'. The fan observes: "At least that guarantees a British player in the second week."
Times have changed very much since then. Reaching the top 50, or top 100, in tennis today is not the impossible challenge it once was for British players, both male and female.
For any of today's hopefuls to have their names inscribed on the trophies resting in the foyer of the All-England Club, Andy Murray will remain their inspiration. In his tearful performance in Australia, he showed again how much the world of tennis means to him.
Those who follow in his footsteps have no excuses with the coaching and financial resources behind them, but whether they have the hunger and willpower of Andy Murray, the boy from Dunblane, is yet to be seen.
My lasting memory of Murray will be that final practice on Court 15, watched by only a handful of spectators and a far cry from the passion of the Centre Court crowd on so many of his great match-winning performances.