March 4, 2021
Sports

Andy Murray ‘devastated’ as he shelves Australian Open plans

A “devastated” Andy Murray has been forced to withdraw from the Australian Open as he is unable to travel to Melbourne with a “workable quarantine” that would allow him to be ready to compete in the tournament, which begins on 8 February.

“Gutted to share that I won’t be flying out to Australia to compete at the Australian Open,” he said in a statement. “We’ve been in constant dialogue with Tennis Australia to try and find a solution which would allow some form of workable quarantine, but we couldn’t make it work.

“I want to thank everyone there for their efforts, I’m devastated not to be playing out in Australia – it’s a country and tournament that I love.”

Shortly before he was due to fly to Melbourne on one of the 17 charter flights transporting 1,200 tennis players, their staff and officials to Australia, Murray tested positive for coronavirus. Players were required to provide a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours of their departure to Australia; a handful of other players and coaches, including American former US Open finalist Madison Keys, also tested positive.

Murray, who was asymptomatic, has since completed his period of isolation and he is able to resume training. While some other players briskly signified their intention to withdraw from the tournament, Murray retained hope of competing in Melbourne Park, where he is a five-times finalist. He and his team held discussions with the Tennis Australia chief executive, Craig Tiley, and were hopeful they would be able to arrange a modified 14-day quarantine. They were unable to come to an acceptable arrangement.

Some other figures, such as Portugal’s João Sousa, also expressed their hope of travelling to Melbourne but it may not have been advisable for any player. Considering the prickly welcome players have already received in Australia, the optics of acquiring a seat on a commercial flight at a time when Australians remained stranded and the perception that top players are receiving preferential treatment, Murray’s presence in Australia may not have gone down well with residents or colleagues.

This marks yet another slice of bad luck for Murray after a bitter 18 months. After returning from hip resurfacing surgery in 2019, Murray’s run to victory at the European Open in Antwerp in October 2019 seemed to signify that he would be able to consolidate and move back towards the top of the game.

He struggled with complications with his hip at the end of that season and by the time he was ready to compete in March 2020, the season was suspended due to Covid-19. His return to competition in the Western & Southern Open yielded an early encouraging victory against Alexander Zverev, but any progress was beset by the frustration of sobering straight sets defeats at the US Open and Roland Garros.

He has been unable to string tournaments together and build any rhythm for two years. Every start has quickly led to another stop. Since returning to competition in August 2019, he has competed in only 12 tournaments, losing nearly as many matches as he has won with a 16-12 record. In his last full season, Murray’s win-loss record was 78-9. The past four years have seemed like a test of just how many complications one player can endure.

Returning to Australia would have been a symbolic moment. After all, it was two years ago that he admitted in a tearful pre-tournament press conference that his career was possibly coming to an end. When he fell in a rousing five-set first round loss to Roberto Bautista Agut, the tournament essentially retired him in an awkward ceremony.

Still, this is not the worst scenario. It is a reflection of the risks of working, travelling and leaving the house during a pandemic. There remain questions about his movement, his ability to effectively recover after playing a series of matches and also figuring out how to optimise his current weapons.

When his frustration passes, Murray’s reaction will be revealing. There are no ATP tournaments in Europe until the end of February, so he could ease himself back into competition with an appearance in a European challenger and build up his level again before ATP events return. If he is as motivated for the coming months of tennis as he was to fly to Australia this week, he will return to action shortly.

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