With the Australian Open - first Grand Slam of the year - just days away, the tennis fans and pundits across the globe were busy picking the probable contenders who could taste success early in 2019.
But, on 11th January, the tennis fraternity suffered a massive blow after Andy Murray - one of the most popular and influential players of his generation - announced that he will retire from professional tennis this year.
A former World No.1 and three-time Grand Slam champion, Murray has been hampered by a hip injury since his defeat to Sam Querrey in the Wimbledon quarterfinal in 2017. Since then, he has struggled to regain fitness after undergoing surgery a year ago.
Breaking the news in a tearful press conference, the 31-year-old admitted: "I have been struggling for a long time. I have been in a lot of pain for about 20 months now. I've pretty much done everything that I could to try and get my hip feeling better and it hasn't helped loads. I am in a better place than I was six months ago but I am still in a lot of pain. It has been tough".
The start to Andy Murray's press conference was very emotional ð¢ pic.twitter.com/hObwoj71uo— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 11, 2019
"During my training block, I spoke to my team and told them I can't keep doing this. I need to have an endpoint because I'm just playing with no idea of when the pain will stop. Wimbledon is where I would like to stop playing but I am not certain I am able to do that. I'm going to play [in Melbourne]. I can still play to a level. Not a level that I'm happy playing at. But it's not just that. The pain is too much really and I don't want to continue playing that way," Murray said.
Driven to tears as he shared his ordeal, the Scot left his fans shell-shocked when he revealed that such is the extent of his pain that he cannot put socks on without struggling. Overcome by emotion, the tennis star briefly had to leave the room full of journalists before returning and confirming that his career could end as soon as next week.January 11, 2019
Asked if the Aussie Open could be his last ever tournament, Murray admitted: "Yes I think there's a chance of that for sure because I'm not sure I'm able to play through the pain for another four or five months. I have a severely damaged right hip. Having the operation last year was to give it the best possible chance of being better. I can play with limitations, but having the limitations and the pain is not allowing me to enjoy competing or training".
Murray now has to confront another surgery to repair the damage he incurred nearly a dozen years at the top of the game. "I have an option to have another operation, which is a little bit more severe than what I've had before in having my hip resurfaced, which will allow me to have a better quality of life and be out of pain," he revealed.
"That's something I'm seriously considering right now. Some athletes have had that and gone back to competing but there's obviously no guarantees with that and the reason for having an operation like that is not to return to professional sport, it's just for a better quality of life," Murray added.
Owing to his troubles, Murray played just 14 times at tour level in 2018 and just two of those matches were at Grand Slams, both coming at the US Open. His heart-breaking announcement comes after he was convincingly defeated in a practice session with the World No. 1 Novak Djokovic on 10th January, wherein the Serbian won 10 out of the 12 games.
He has also slipped down to 230 in the world rankings and, now, faces the daunting task of overcoming 22nd seed Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round of Australian Open on 14th January.
For a man who stands tall alongside Fred Perry as Britain's greatest ever to grace the game, Murray's career might have reached a sad end, but the Scot will always be remembered for his achievements in an era where he competed with icons such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Thus, there was no surprise to see his tearful announcement prompting a volley of tributes, fond recollections of a historic career and encouragement to serve up a fitting farewell (likely at Australian Open, and if another surgery goes according to plan, then probably at Wimbledon later this year).
If this is true, I tip my cap to @andy_murray ! Absolute legend. Short list of best tacticians in history. Unreal results in a brutal era ...... Nothing but respect here. I hope he can finish strong and healthy https://t.co/FZbwmvRC2r— andyroddick (@andyroddick) January 11, 2019
Andy, just watched your conference. Please don't stop trying. Keep fighting. I can imagine your pain and sadness. I hope you can overcome this. You deserve to retire on your own terms, whenever that happens. We love you @andy_murray and we want to see you happy and doing well. ð— Juan M. del Potro (@delpotrojuan) January 11, 2019 January 11, 2019
.@andy_murray You are a champion on and off the court. So sorry you cannot retire on your own terms, but remember to look to the future. Your greatest impact on the world may be yet to come. Your voice for equality will inspire future generations. Much love to you & your family. https://t.co/AQUOP3LGec— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) January 11, 2019 January 11, 2019
The @andy_murray that I know will absolutely make it to Wimbledon to play his final tournament. Not many with more heart, effort in the history of the game. Was always a pleasure to share the court pal.— Mardy Fish (@MardyFish) January 11, 2019 January 11, 2019
My thoughts are with @andy_murray and I really hope we continue to see you fighting on court so you can retire on your own terms. Get well soon... Tennis is better with you. pic.twitter.com/0z1401hKXe— Kevin Anderson (@KAndersonATP) January 11, 2019
So sad for @andy_murray . Hands down one of the best guys on tour. So much respect for him as an all around athlete and person. Hope his body can recover. If not, he will be missed by all. ð— Vasek Pospisil (@VasekPospisil) January 11, 2019
Tennis will come to an end for us all but the friendships will last a lifetime. What you've done for the sport will live on forever. I'm hoping for a strong and healthy finish for you, my friend! @andy_murray pic.twitter.com/Bcs0cdllJp— Grigor Dimitrov (@GrigorDimitrov) January 11, 2019
The realest ðð» https://t.co/wy0Rh1gp9N— victoria azarenka (@vika7) January 11, 2019