An emotional and drained Andy Murray left open the door to a return to Melbourne Park after falling to Roberto Bautista Agut in a gut-wrenching, five-set epic in the first round of the Australian Open on Monday.
Having said the tournament could be his last as a professional due to his painful hip, Murray played as if it was indeed his swansong, rallying from two sets down before being denied 6-4 6-4 6-7(5) 6-7(4) 6-2 under the lights at a heaving Melbourne Arena.
The former world number one whipped the terraces into a frenzy as he pushed the match into a deciding fifth set, then left fans with hope he might eventually produce an Australian encore.
“Maybe I’ll see you again, I’ll do everything possible to try,” the three-times Grand Slam champion said on court with a quavery voice.
“If I want to go again, I’ll need to have a big operation, which there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to come back from... but I’ll give it my best shot.”
Five times a runner-up at Melbourne Park, the Scot appeared doomed to a quick and painful finish after being broken early in the third set but he turned the match on its head with a pair of scintillating tiebreaks.
It seemed the momentum was all his as he entered the decider, with the terraces stamping their feet and his mother Judy and doubles-playing brother Jamie standing in support.
It was all a mirage, however, as Bautista Agut rallied to break the Scot twice and motored to a 5-1 lead.
The crowd gave Murray a standing ovation and he raised his racquet to salute fans before starting his final service game.
It only stalled defeat briefly as Bautista Agut served out the match to love.