When tournament director Dick Norman thanked the spectators at the Antwerp Arena, Andy Murray's tension had dropped. The surprising tournament winner sat next to Stan Wawrinka on the bench, the two long-time opponents chatted and Murray was able to laugh again after the 3: 6, 6: 4, 6: 4 victory over two and a half hours. That had looked different minutes before.
Murray buried his face in his hands. The Scot, so popular with many tennis fans, was close to tears, and at the first winner interview in two and a half years, he found it difficult to find the right words. "That means a lot to me," said Murray. "The last years have been very difficult, I did not expect to be in this position again, I really enjoyed this week."
What a player. What a champion.
The winning moment for @andy_murray at the 2019 @EuroTennisOpen
: @TennisTV pic.twitter.com/OrqZ3IuoS8
Murray started this week with a two-match win over Belgian wildcard holder Kimmer Coppejans. The European Open in Antwerp is an ATP tournament of the smallest 250 category. The tennis year is slowly coming to an end, with the Masters in Paris at the end of October, the ATP Finals in London and the Davis Cup Week in mid-November, there are still three highlights. But the big stars like Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer, for years Murray's opponents in countless finals, are already tired. Her eyes are more on the direction of 2020. Murray, of course, counts every game. And be it against the unknown Coppejans.
Withdrawal was a serious option for Murray
Murray himself only got a place in the main draw of the tournament in Antwerp, because he still falls under the so-called Protected Ranking. If a player fails for six months or more, the ranking will protect him from having to go down the world rankings when he comes back through the mills of qualifications to get into the peloton. For nine tournaments, this special arrangement has been used, and Antwerp was the seventh tournament for Murray since he decided to play professional tennis again.
That had looked quite different in January this year. Murray had already had surgery on his permanently injured hip, but there was no improvement. The two-time Olympic champion played only sporadically, he fell in the world rankings in position 839 back and in the run-up to the Australian Open, he had reported at an emotional press conference of severe pain. Playing tennis is difficult, meanwhile he already has problems driving a car.
The big R-word stood in the room: resignation. At 31 years old.
After the tournament victory he buried his face in his hands
In Melbourne he retired after a great fight against Roberto Bautista Agut in five sets. The audience celebrated Murray, there were even recorded by farewell greetings from colleagues. Murray decided to do a second surgery, and at the end of January he was given an artificial hip joint - without the guarantee of being able to play tennis professionally again. Murray did not want to finish the resignation, but it was realistic.
"I just wanted to survive the end of the second set"
But then the two-time winner of the Wimbledon felt that recovery was fast. The daily routine was overcome without pain, and after a few months, Murray was back on the training ground. In the middle of the year he played first doubles and mixed tournaments, in the run-up to the US Open first individual attempts were added and up to the kick-off in Antwerp Murray had played a total of twelve matches.
On the one hand, it wants to approach Murray gently. He used to be obsessed with training, but today he lets his body whiz and wants to listen more to his body. "I do not think I can physically return to my best," Murray said a few weeks ago. But at the latest the week in Antwerp has aroused the "other side" in him again. He defeated Pablo Cuevas, Marius Copil and Ugo Humbert before he was properly challenged by Wawrinka - also injured by injury racket of tennis.
Francisco Seco / AP
This is what the winner and the trophy look like in Antwerp
Murray lost the first set after an early break. In the second set it was 4: 4, Wawrinka had a break ball and if it had gone to one of the linesman, the Swiss would have beaten to victory. But Murray had the ball check successfully, got two new serves and fended off the break ball with a forehand winner from. Murray clenched his fist, shouting his joy and fighting back into the match point by point.
As he has done countless times in his over 850 matches on the ATP Tour. "I just wanted to survive the end of the second set," Murray said at the crucial stage.
In fact, it is hard to believe that Murray can successfully survive the rigors of a Grand Slam tournament with a maximum of seven matches over three sets of wins with an artificial hip joint. But he wants to try it. Murray has already announced plans to return to the Australian Open early next year.
Preferably without greetings from colleagues.