After he lost his Wimbledon doubles match with his brother Jamie, Sir Andy Murray was felicitated by some of tennis’ greats – John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova and one of his rivals, Novak Djokovic. As his family and fans looked on, many a tear was shed as the two-time Wimbledon winner bid adieu to his career (albeit a mixed doubles encounter pending) on the hallowed grass of Centre Court on Thursday.

Murray himself was struggling to hold back his emotions after the defeat, knowing the road he was on was coming to an end.

“I want to play forever, I love the sport and it's given me so much. It's taught me loads of lessons over the years I can use for the rest of my life. I don't want to stop so it is hard,” said the 37-year-old on court to former British tennis player and broadcaster Sue Barker.

Murray’s career isn’t glittered with a veritable list of accolades and trophies, like Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Wimbledon’s favourite child, Roger Federer. Wonky knees, a penchant for losing focus when reaching matchpoint and the sheer dominance of the Big Three left Murray on the outside more often than not.

But what makes Murray special isn’t his ability to win titles consistently. It’s as Djokovic, born seven days after the Scottish player, said in his farewell video: “For you, it was always about the tennis.”

Grit and gumption

It’s an interesting fact about British tennis that the first man to win the Wimbledon title after 77 years was someone who may not have even been considered British if it weren’t for a military victory in 1298 that went the way of the English.

Murray with his Scottish brogue is a reluctant Brit, but he is considered the player who brought back glory for the United Kingdom in the sport.

Not only did he break the Wimbledon curse in 2013, but he’s also led Great Britain to a Davis Cup win in 2015 along with brother Jamie, and won two Olympic gold medals. He would be the first tennis player, male or female, to win two consecutive gold medals in the singles event. He was also knighted by then-Prince Charles in 2017, receiving the medal two years later.

Nadal had the dominance on clay court. Federer had that elegance and grace that is rarely seen in the sport. Djokovic, still competing and winning, has that longevity. For Murray, it was his persistence that endeared him the hearts of tennis fans worldwide.

This persistence and gumption that was a unique feature of Murray’s game was on display when he played out the longest tie-break in men’s championship history to take the first set at the 2012 US Open final in Flushing Meadows. When Djokovic’s return went long in the fifth set and the British man finally had his first Grand Slam title, the final clocked at 4 hours and 54 minutes, the joint-longest US Open final and the fourth longest men’s final in the Open Era.

There were grunts and shouts as Murray berated himself constantly for allowing Djokovic to come back into the match after being two sets up. Smacking himself on the head and hitting his racket on his leg were constant features when watching a match that Murray played.

The Brit was never afraid of showing his emotions on court, whether it was losing the 2012 Wimbledon final to Federer or clinching the title a year later against Djokovic.

But the US Open title followed a stunning show at the 2012 London Olympics where Murray would break yet another curse for Great Britain, winning its first men’s singles medal since 1908.

He would go on to add another Olympics gold medal in men’s singles in 2016 along with two Wimbledon titles in 2013 and 2016, before his body decided to give up on him in 2017.

A metal hip and several surgeries later, Murray was back on court at what is considered his home Grand Slam, extending his farewell to Wimbledon one format at a time.

Champion off the court

As Murray walked off the court after his doubles match loss, tributes poured in from all corners of the tennis world. Defending champion Carlos Alcaraz and women’s world No 1 Iga Swiatek both credited the 37-year-old with being an inspiration. Swiatek in particular highlighted what Murray has done for women’s tennis.

Because of its insular nature, tennis sometimes affords the ability to players should they choose to advocate for social issues like equal rights for women, whether it be in the sport or outside.

If one is comparing Murray to his rivals like Djokovic, Nadal or Federer, none of the three were as vocal as the Brit about much-needed recognition for female tennis players, whether it was in the media or in terms of prize money.

Back in 2017, Murray exited Wimbledon in the quarter-final stage after a five-set defeat to American Sam Querrey. A reporter at a post-match conference mentioned that Querrey was the first American to reach a major semi-final since 2009.

Murray, with a deadpan face, corrected the journalist and said, “Male player”, referencing the numerous times American players Serena and Venus Williams have reached the same landmark. The reporter laughed it off and continued. But the impact was felt.

The clip went viral three years later and is still brought up when tennis fans discuss online about Murray’s legacy. The year before, another journalist was also corrected by Murray about him being the first tennis player to win two Olympic gold medals. The Brit said with a wry smile, “I think Venus and Serena have won about four each.”

In 2015, Murray hired Amelie Mauresmo as his coach and defended attacks about her worthiness in an on-court interview after reaching the Australian Open final. He’s been a champion voice for issues like racial equality and LGBTQ+ rights.

In an unlikely manner, he’s also endeared himself with the younger generation of tennis stars with his dry humour. On home soil, players like Jack Draper and Emma Raducanu (the latter with whom he will take the Wimbledon court in mixed doubles) have recalled his impact on British tennis. He’s also been a hitting partner for the likes of Nick Kyrgios and even during her playing days, Serena Williams.

Irrespective of whether his body does indeed allow him to play on clay at the 2024 Paris Olympics, Murray has carved a unique place in tennis history – that of an outspoken, unapologetic and fierce champion of the game.