Andy Murray says Wimbledon farewell with Centre Court ceremony and tributes

WIMBLEDON — As the tears flowed, no one wanted it to end. Not the valedictory speech, not the hug with his brother Jamie, and certainly not his tennis career.

But we’re inching towards that point for Andy Murray, and on Thursday night, as the light faded on July 4, he was given a fitting farewell. Fitting, in part, because it’s not even a full goodbye for a man who who has found leaving the sport one of the toughest challenges of his career.

He still has the mixed doubles with Emma Raducanu to play here, as well as the Olympics in Paris later this month. There’ll be more goodbyes to come. And players like Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev have said this week they expect Murray will actually end up being back here in a year’s time for one last singles match. Murray could well be back on Centre Court with Raducanu in a couple of days.

This though was the orchestrated farewell, the tug-at–your-heartstrings video montage, the Sue Barker appearing on court again like tennis’s fairy godmother. Suddenly we were all Murray in 2012 after losing the Wimbledon final to Roger Federer. “I’m gonna try this and it’s not gonna be ea—[voice cracks]—sy.”

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Murray was joined on court by Sue Barker. (Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)

First there was a doubles match to get through — an unremarkable 7-6, 6-4 defeat with his brother Jamie to the Australian pair Rinky Hijikata and John Peers.

And then all the pent-up emotion that Murray must have been feeling for days, weeks, months, even the seven years since he limped off this court with a hip injury against Sam Querrey and was never the same again, could pour out. First, in true quirky Murray style, he quickly ran off the court — presumably for a bathroom break. Which left Hijikata and Peers to congratulate him on a great career, while he wasn’t actually on court.

And then, in front of wife and two of his three daughters Sophia and Edie (watching him live for only the second time), Murray was back. Ready at last for the big goodbye.

Barker entered the stage and they shared a warm embrace, and she was followed onto the court by various luminaries of the sport. Novak Djokovic, Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe were among them, with present and future greats like Iga Swiatek. His compatriots Tim Henman, Dan Evans, Cameron Norrie, and Jack Draper were there too. Holger Rune as well. Sure, why not.

Roger Federer, who had been at the All England Club earlier in the day, was strangely absent.

Then we were into a video montage of his best career moments, with the soothing tones of his compatriot Andrew Cotter and one of those portentous remixes that no montage in 2024 is without. This time a version of Radiohead’s Creep.

His fellow Big Four members Federer, Nadal and Djokovic paid tribute. “Sometimes it looked like you against the world,” Djokovic said.

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Stars of past and present clapped Murray off. (Ben Stansall / AFP via Getty Images)

Huge cheers went up as we saw Murray winning his first Wimbledon title 11 years ago. As they did when the video cut to Murray’s famous “male player” correction to a reporter. The legend on and off the court showcased in a couple of clips.

“Always drawn to that beautiful torment” Federer then said of Murray’s relationship with tennis. There were some sad injury-related clips, footage of Murray with his kids and then Nadal saying: “We were proud to play against you.”

“Always…” added Djokovic. “With you,” finished Federer.

A bit corny? Sure. And Murray was probably a little uncomfortable at all the attention. But it felt like we all needed this.

Murray’s magnetism has dominated this venue for almost two decades, since his first appearance in 2005. This was the first match in the tournament so far when everything else became irrelevant. People stopped checking the live scores, only caring about the court they were on. The players entered the arena just after the current best two British players, Cameron Norrie and Jack Draper, had finished their match — a win for the former that was completely overshadowed.

All eyes were on Centre Court.

Even more so by the time the Murrays were done, and everyone could get into the celebration part. After the video finished, the interview with Barker got under way, and Murray entered groom-giving-wedding-speech mode like he’d been practicing throughout his career.

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The Murray brothers played their first Grand Slam match together before the ceremony. (Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)

He joked about the ridiculousness of facing Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic all at the same time: “They were alright.” As his kids watched on, Murray said: “I’ll try and keep it quick. Two of my kids are up and it’s past their bedtime.” He added that they were asking for piggybacks the day after his back surgery, which curtailed his dream of playing singles on this court one last time.

Then the revelations start to come. Like the fact that he had been sick in the cab home after his second Wimbledon title. Another vomiting story came in a tribute to his wife when he talked about throwing up on his opponent’s bag the first time she came to watch him play. After their first date he asked for her email address. “Not sure that’s a normal thing to do,” he deadpanned.

As for his retirement, Murray’s looking forward to more time at home, and said he’d rather be in the coaching box at Wimbledon next year than watching from the posh seats. He reiterated that commentary doesn’t really appeal at this point.

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Fans gathered to watch from outside Centre Court. (Andrej Isakovic / AFP via Getty Images)

There was fighting back tears of course. Mainly when he paid tribute to his support team and talked about the challenges of the last few years, and then when he thanked his parents. “I can cry like Roger, it’s just a shame I can’t play like him,” a typically self-deprecating Murray said after losing the 2010 Australian Open final to Federer. Murray wasn’t the only one on Thursday night — in fact on Centre Court and for the millions watching around the world, most were struggling to hold it together.

What really shone through for Murray though, both in his interview with Barker and then in the post-match press conference (which he began in self-critical analysis mode of his performance) was how desperately he doesn’t want this to end. He’s retiring because he has to, not because he wants to.

“I’d love to keep playing but I can’t,” he said. “Physically it’s too tough”.

“I want to play forever. I love the sport. It’s given me so much… I don’t want to stop, so it’s hard.”

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Murray has found exiting tennis one of the hardest things of his career. (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images)

Federer told The Athletic last month that with most players, people don’t even really remember how they retire, but Murray he desperately wanted one last singles match on Centre Court to stir his soul. That he was denied that by an inopportunely timed cyst in his back is the cruelty of the tennis retirement.

But this, five-and-a-half years on from his last retirement video at the 2019 Australian Open, after which he played on was still special.

It’s just a shame that it, and his career, had to end.

(Top photo: Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)

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