In late May, with most of the world’s best tennis players focused on the red clay at the French Open, Sir Andy Murray was 300 miles away on the other side of the English Channel, dialed in on preparations for the grass at Wimbledon.
That had been the plan, anyway. But then his wife, Kim Sears, had to head up to Scotland for a few days to handle some business at the hotel she and Murray own. That left him solo for the morning rituals beginning at 5:30 a.m. with their four children, all younger than 8: cooking breakfast, getting everyone dressed and dropping them off at school.
Three hours later, with the last child delivered, he headed to Britain’s national tennis center in Roehampton, where he received treatment from his physiotherapist and trained for several hours on the grass court and in the gym. There was also an afternoon of interviews and shooting promotional videos. It’s all part of the next phase of Murray’s quixotic, late-career quest to finish his journey on his terms, metal hip and all.
Maybe that means somehow recapturing the magic of 10 years ago, when he became the first British man in 77 years to win the most important title in his sport. Maybe it’s simply cracking the top 30 or 20 once more, proving wrong all the doctors and doubters who called him foolish for entertaining a future in professional tennis after hip resurfacing surgery in 2019.
Or maybe it’s pushing off for however long he can be the full-time tennis elder, entrepreneur and someone who, years ago, did that glorious thing.
The default demeanor that accompanies Murray’s grueling physical play has always looked something like misery, peppered with a near-constant verbal self-flagellation that pulls spectators into his battle. But there is also joy in the training, the competing, the quest to improve and get the most out of himself while doing something that he loves, even when that means struggling against seemingly inferior opponents. Murray knows nothing else he does will ever match the feeling. So he goes on, results be damned.
“I’m jealous of your Jannik Sinners and these young guys that have got an amazing career to look forward to,” he said during a recent interview at the end of that harried day as he headed for the tennis center parking lot. “I would love to do it all over again.”
‘An Outrageous Career’
A decade on from the moment Britain had been waiting on since the Great Depression, Murray returns to the All England Club a version of himself that he could not have imagined in 2013, when he was just another 20-something bloke who walked his dogs in London on the south bank of the Thames.
The tennis obsessive is now a man in full: a husband of eight years; a father of four; an officer of the Order of the British Empire (hence the “sir”); an art collector; an entrepreneur with a portfolio that includes a hotel, a clothing line and other investments; and the wise man, sounding board and occasional practice partner for the next generation of British tennis stars, such as Jack Draper and Emma Raducanu.
Mirra Andreeva, the 16-year-old Russian phenom, would like some time with him, too. She called him “so beautiful” this spring.
Regrets, he has a few, especially in those years in his 20s when he trained like a fiend and viewed time with friends and family as an impediment to a tireless search for every ounce of success. Another speed workout. More lifting, or hot yoga, or hitting practice balls. Why did he make life so difficult for his coaches? Why did he eat all those sweet-and-sour candies? Why did he stay up until 3 a.m. playing video games so often?
The lazy view of Murray, who plays Ryan Peniston of Britain in the first round on Tuesday, is a player with just three Grand Slam singles titles, the same as Stan Wawrinka, who is a fine champion but no one’s idea of an all-time great. Novak Djokovic just won his 23rd. Rafael Nadal has 22; Roger Federer, 20. They are the so-called Big Three.
Djokovic said recently he doesn’t much like that term because it excludes Murray, a player he has been battling since his days on the junior tennis circuit. The longtime mates practiced together on Saturday at the All England Club.
There is a reason Federer included Murray as a central character in his send-off last year at the Laver Cup. Murray has beaten Djokovic, Nadal and Federer a combined 29 times, including two wins over Djokovic in Grand Slam finals. He made 11 Grand Slam singles finals during the most competitive era of elite men’s tennis. Only he, Nadal, Federer and Djokovic held a No. 1 ranking between 2004 and 2022. And he withstood unmatched pressure during his run to that first Wimbledon title.
“It’s an outrageous career,” said Jamie Murray, a top doubles player who teamed with Andy, his younger sibling, in 2015 to deliver Britain its first Davis Cup triumph since 1936.
Or it was an outrageous career, until that grueling physical style exacted its toll on Murray’s back and ankles and eventually led to the degenerative hip condition that stymied his run at the top in 2017. In January 2018, Murray had an initial unsuccessful hip surgery. For the rest of the season, everyone saw him suffering and limping through the pain.
At the 2019 Australian Open, Bob Bryan, a 23-time Grand Slam doubles champion, put his breakfast tray down at Murray’s table and told him about the hip resurfacing surgery he had undergone the previous summer. The operation allowed Bryan to return to high-level competition doubles in just five months. Elite singles was something else entirely.
“‘All I want to do is play,’” Bryan said Murray told him.
Later that month, Murray posted a startling photo on Instagram that showed him lying in a hospital bed.
“I now have a metal hip,” he wrote after the roughly two-hour resurfacing procedure that replaced the damaged bone and cartilage with a metal shell. “Feeling a bit battered and bruised just now but hopefully that will be the end of my hip pain.”
Murray’s pain had grown so severe that the primary goal of the operation was to give him the ability to play with his children.
For the next six months, he attacked physical therapy and rehabilitation the way he had attacked tennis. He was a full-time father. He played golf. He hung around with old friends.
Matt Gentry, Murray’s longtime agent and business partner, said the downtime gave Murray a window into life without tennis. It wasn’t terrible.
Murray has long admired American sports stars who take an entrepreneurial approach to their careers, and he and Gentry began to map out opportunities. Murray has since launched a clothing line. He has invested with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in TMRW Sports, a company that is seeking to find new ways to marry sports media and technology, including a new golf competition. He is part of a group that is building thousands of padel courts at sports clubs throughout the United Kingdom.
In 2013, he purchased Cromlix House, a 15-room castle-like hotel near his childhood home in Dunblane, Scotland, for roughly $2 million. The property was especially meaningful: His grandparents held their 25th anniversary party there in 1982. He and Sears held their wedding reception there. His brother, Jamie, also got married at the property.
Murray and Sears recently completed the first phase of a multimillion-dollar renovation and expansion of the property that will eventually include cabins by the nearby loch. The hotel is home to several pieces of art from Murray’s private collection, including a series of Damien Hirst and David Shrigley prints.
For now, Murray said, he mostly listens to pitches and writes checks, but he plans to become more involved in his business ventures when he is done playing tennis. If he has his way, that day will not arrive for some time.
‘Why Shouldn’t He Keep Playing?’
Murray’s mother, Judy, a former player who was his first tennis coach, said tennis allows her son to express so many parts of his identity, beginning with a burning need to compete, but also an analytical mind that loves studying the game and its history.
From the time he was a small boy, she said, if a game of cards or dominoes wasn’t going his way, those cards and dominoes would go flying across the room. He also had an older and bigger brother he desperately wanted to beat, and plenty of people who said that a boy from a small town in Scotland, where the weather was terrible and indoor courts were scarce, could never win Wimbledon. Now those same people say his time has passed.
“If he still loves it, then why shouldn’t he keep playing?” Judy Murray said in an interview on Friday.
Murray said he has a rough idea of when and how he would like his tennis career to end, but he knows it might not be his choice. Federer desperately wanted to play more, but his knee wouldn’t allow it. Murray has seen the videos of Nadal limping off the court in Australia in January with a torn muscle and hip injury from which he may never fully recover.
Murray knows that his next desperate sprint for a drop shot, or one of his signature points earned while running the baseline back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, could be his last. Then again, he could still be doing this three years from now, which carries its own unique complications.
He recently ran out of his stash of the bulky, extra-support tennis shoes that Under Armour manufactured for him until their last partnership deal expired. So Murray had to call his friend Kevin Plank, the Under Armour founder, and ask if he could make him more shoes. Plank did.
In early June, when Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz and nearly everyone else of consequence was playing in Paris, Murray was playing a Challenger tournament at a racket club in Surbiton, southwest of London, in the tennis minor leagues.
The field was made up of pro-tour deep cuts and some early round French Open casualties. A crowd of hundreds packed the stands, which were set on shaky scaffolding.
Murray took only a few games against Chung Hyeon, a journeyman from South Korea, to show why he is certain he can beat anyone in the world on grass at a time when so few pros have mastered the surface: the slice backhands that go successively lower until they barely bounce above an opponent’s shoelaces; the dying volleys in the front of the court, and the stinging ones to the baseline; the slice serve that slides so far off the court; the softballs that look like meatballs but are really knuckleballs, wobbling in the air and twisting when they hit the grass.
Two weeks and two Challenger trophies later, Murray had claimed 10 straight matches, the first five won while commuting from his home outside London, where he had decamped to a spare bedroom for the month to get some rest.
Then came his final Wimbledon tuneup, at Queen’s Club in London, where he lost his first match to Alex de Minaur of Australia, a top 20 player who took advantage of Murray’s heavy legs and lackluster serve that day. Murray tried not to read too much into the result.
All journeys have peaks and valleys. As the teachers in Murray’s hot yoga classes would say, the only way out is through — even on those days when the end feels closer than Murray hopes it might.