Andy Murray says he has ‘months’ left in tennis as retirement clock ticks down

Andy Murray celebrates after his first-round victory in Dubai
Andy Murray beat former top-tenner Denis Shapovalov 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 in the first round in Dubai - Kamran Jebreili/AP

Andy Murray admitted he only has a “few months” of professional tennis left after fighting back to beat the wildly aggressive Canadian Denis Shapovalov in Dubai.

This was a courageous display, especially as Murray looked stiff and sore for large parts of his 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 victory. Afterwards, he told Sky Sports’ on-court interviewer Karthi Gnanasegaram: “It’s getting harder and harder the older you get to compete with the young guys and keep your body fit and fresh. I probably don’t have too long left but I’ll do as best I can these last few months.”

It has been a long time – over a year in fact – since Murray beat a “name” opponent at an ATP event. You would probably have to go back to Feb 22, 2023, when he overcame Alexander Zverev in a tight three-setter in nearby Doha.

A former top-tenner who reached a Wimbledon semi-final in 2021, Shapovalov definitely qualifies as a name. This newspaper profiled him in 2018, asking whether he might be “the one” to challenge the oligarchy of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Admittedly, we got that wrong. Now stranded outside the world’s top 100 after a long-term knee injury, Shapovalov has never managed to discipline his flashy shotmaking. His erratic game style may owe something to his mother (and childhood coach) Tessa’s belief that you should aim not only for the lines, but for the outside of the lines.

Against Murray in Dubai, Shapovalov lived up to his gambler’s reputation by striking a massive 45 winners – and an even more remarkable 60 unforced errors. This means that, out of 199 points in the match, more than half ended with Shapovalov either lashing a screamer into the corners or missing the court entirely – sometimes by an alarming margin. The match was entirely on his racket.

Denis Shapovalov (right) and Andy Murray shake hands at the end of their first-round match in Dubai
Denis Shapovalov (right) registered 45 winners and a staggering 60 unforced errors in his defeat to Murray - Rula Rouhana/Reuters

Murray’s challenge was to avoid becoming too passive in the face of Shapovalov’s hit-or-bust style. In the first set, he ended up simply pushing the ball back into the court and hoping for a freebie. He did not miss a groundstroke until he was broken in the ninth game – but only because he was not imposing himself or going for winners of his own.

Murray upped the intensity in the second set, and was rewarded with some cracks in his opponent’s game – notably a stream of double-faults. He shaded a tie-break, broke serve early in the third set, and managed to hang on – despite some involuntary grabs at what looked like a painful right hip – until he had completed only his second victory of 2024.

As it happens, this was Murray’s 500th win on a hard court. The statistic leaves him fifth in the all-time standings behind Federer, Djokovic, Andre Agassi and Nadal, and underlines what an extraordinary performer he has been over the years.

But Murray’s well has nearly run dry. During last week’s Doha loss to Jakub Mensik – the Czech 18-year-old who went on to reach the final – he could be seen mouthing the words “This game’s not for me any more” in the direction of his coach Jonny O’Mara.

Asked about that comment by Gnanasegaram, Murray replied: “People read a lot into what I say on the court sometimes. It’s not always rational. But everybody asks me about it all of the time anyway.”

“Look, I obviously still love competing,” Murray added. “I still love the game but it’s getting harder and harder the older you get.”

Murray’s latest comments support the widely held view this will be his last year on tour. He will clearly want to play one more Wimbledon, so the most obvious question is whether he will go to Paris as well for a last crack at the Olympics. He is something of an Olympic specialist, having carried the British flag and successfully defended his singles crown in Rio, as well as taking mixed-doubles silver with Laura Robson in London.