There will be no fourth Olympic medal for Andy Murray. No fairytale ending to a tournament that has aligned with every high point in his career. He and Team GB partner Joe Salisbury were defeated by Croatia’s Marian Cilic and Ivan Dodig in the quarter-finals of the men’s doubles at the Ariake Tennis Centre.
Defeat was neither swift nor expected after the British duo made the kind of start that suggested they were to continue the medal rush instigated by their teammates at the start of the week. They took the first set 6-4, breaking serve on the very first game of the match, before they let slip a 4-2 lead in the second set, which was eventually taken on a 7-2 tie-breaker by the Croatians. Revitalised, Cilic and Dodig then took the championship tie-breaker 10-7 to send them into the semi-finals against New Zealand’s Marcus Daniell and Michael Venus.
“I wanted to try and win a medal with Joe,” said Murray, disappointed at how the match panned out, especially given they were two games away from guaranteeing themselves victory. The 34-year-old pulled out of the singles event on the morning he was due to play Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime with a view to managing a damaged quad that would not be able to cope competing on two fronts. Alas, despite two solid wins in the first two rounds, they have fallen at the worst possible opportunity. Victory here would have guaranteed them at least a bronze medal match.
“I wish that today could have gone differently and had another chance with Joe to win a medal. We were so close. That’s what’s disappointing. I would have liked to have done some stuff differently in the match to try and help out more. But yeah, it’s very disappointing.”
Salisbury was equally downbeat. He was impressive on Olympic debut, running the net to allow Murray to do his work from the baseline. Their understanding looked to be blossoming, characterised by their dominance in the first two-thirds of this encounter.
“It’s always tough when you lose matches but especially here – the chance to get into the semi-finals and the chance to win a medal,” said Salisbury. “The situation we were in: we were set on a great path and were playing well. it’s very tough.”
So ends a road that has given so much to Murray. His first gold medal in 2012, along with a silver in the mixed doubles with Laura Robson, helped him overcome the mental blockage of grand slam success, going on to win the US Open later that year and a Wimbledon title in 2013. The successful defence in 2016 tallied with another Wimbledon and ascension to the top of the world rankings.
Now, however, it appears this particular journey has come to an end. He will be 37 by Paris 2024, an age which has proved no barrier to success over the last few seasons. However recent history suggests he will do well to get there. “If I get the opportunity to play then, yeah,” he said of the prospect of one more Games.
“I’ve always loved team sports, I love being part of the Olympics, it’s an amazing experience. As I’m sure Joe would say; it’s his first time and I’m sure he’ll be hungry to come back and do more and better next time. I know all of the tennis players that were on our team have really enjoyed it and loved the experience. I just wish we could have done better.”
The silver lining for Murray is the doubles workload over the last week has put him in promising shape to make the US Open, which begins on 30 August. He plans on taking a break, the length of which will be governed by how long it takes the injury to heal fully. But he believes he will be match fit by the time he reaches New York next month.
“My team think I should be OK to play the US Open judging by how I felt in the matches here. I know it’s not as physical as singles, but it’s a lot of explosive movements and stuff. My leg felt fine. We’ll have to wait and see.”
What should encourage British tennis fans, and fans of Murray outright, was the enthusiasm in his play. He was a constant source of encouragement for Salisbury, who held his own at the net and his occasional forays to the backcourt.
Murray’s touch looked in good order, notably when he flashed a cross-court winner from deep to break the Croatians in the second set, before holding serve to make it 4-2. Cilic and Dodig then immediately broke back, preying on misjudgements that had begun creeping into the Brits’ game. Both teams ended up making 49 errors each. The problem was Murray’s and Salisbury’s came at the end and, thus, were terminal.
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