MELBOURNE, Australia — With the end in sight, the capacity crowd inside Melbourne Arena rose to its feet. Andy Murray soaked it in, and then began to let it out.
As the match reached the four-hour mark, Murray’s time was finally up, trailing Roberto Bautista Agut by 1-5 in the fifth set of their first-round match at the Australian Open on Monday evening.
Murray had battled valiantly to force a final frame, coming back from losing the first two sets to level the match. He had looked as if he might take command of the fifth set as well before Bautista Agut reeled off five straight games, putting a comeback out of reach.
Tears visible in his eyes, Murray raised his right arm to acknowledge the salute, seeming to accept the fond farewell and his fate. But he was not quite done just yet, saving a match point and holding serve, delaying the inevitable by one game, buying himself a fragment of time.
Bautista Agut, the No. 22 seed, served out the victory one game later, closing out a 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (4-7), 6-2 victory after 4 hours 9 minutes.
Murray, whose ranking has slipped to 229th, said in his pretournament news conference on Friday that he had set Wimbledon this year as an “end point” to his career, and couldn’t rule out that this tournament would be his last.
“If this was my last match, an amazing way to end,” Murray said in an on-court interview. “I gave literally everything I had.”
Murray had made the match more competitive than many expected; Bautista Agut won an ATP tournament in Doha, Qatar, eight days ago. Though his movement was visibly encumbered at times, Murray maintained many of his other gifts and gutted out several long rallies with his signature drop shots, giving a crowd which included his mother, Judy, and brother, Jamie, plenty to cheer.
By the time Murray had joined his former coach Mark Petchey for an on-court interview, his raw emotions seemed to have settled, which almost seemed to catch him off-guard.
“Actually,” he said, “I think I’m going to be all right.”