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Australian Open: Melbourne loss prompts fresh retirement talk for Andy Murray

Andy Murray's performance in his opening-round defeat to Tomas Martin Etcheverry at the Australian Open and his post-match reaction hint that his magnificent career may be entering its final phase.

The dejected Scot admitted after the match that there was a "definite possibility" that he had played his last game at the tournament.

Murray has previously suggested that 2024 could be his last year on the ATP Tour if he does not enjoy the experience or feel he can be competitive.

The two-time Wimbledon champion was subdued in Monday's defeat, losing 6-4 6-2 6-2 as he failed to reach the second round for just the second time in his 13 appearances at the tournament.

He has now lost eight of his last 12 matches and may feel the time is right to look to the future.

Etcheverry proves a class above

Despite sitting 12 places below Etcheverry in the rankings, Murray was seen to have received a favourable first-round draw, but he failed to make any real inroads against the Argentinian.

He mentioned ahead of the tie that he was keen to avoid anything akin to the marathon matches he has become famous for and highlighted the pair's previous meetings, both of which were three-setters that lasted over three hours.

Those fears were dispelled early on as Etcheverry took advantage of his opponent's inaccuracy. Both lost their first service games and, as the match settled down, a break in the seventh game helped the South American take the opening set.

He broke Murray twice in the second and third sets, exploiting the former world number one's woes on serve, an area where he has struggled in recent years, managing only a 52% success rate on his first serve.

Etcheverry's supreme fitness and returning prowess from the baseline allowed him to handle everything Murray threw at him, even when the Scot tried to mix things up.

The 6-4 6-2 6-2 scoreline perhaps flattered Murray, with Etcheverry through to the second round for the second straight year, where he will face the always entertaining Gael Monfils.

Famous on-court antics lacking from Murray

Most alarming for British fans was the lack of emotion shown by their hero.

Instead of his famous cries of 'C'mon!', he looked dejected, as his shoulders slumped on court and his posture deflated as his courtside seat swallowed him up between games.

That was in stark contrast to 12 months ago when he toiled over five hours and five gruelling sets to beat Matteo Berrettini, before battling past Thanasi Kokkinakis in a match that finished at 04:05 in the morning.

This time around Murray failed to find inspiration or optimism as the unforced errors totted up.

At 36, and playing with a metal hip, his showing at the Kia Arena hinted that the end might be nigh regarding his tennis career.

Murray admitted afterwards: "I won't win many matches playing that way" and that "It's a definite possibility that will be the last time I play here."

His competitive nature means the three-time Grand Slam winner will want to avoid his 2024 season turning into a farewell tour, with him 50/1 to win Wimbledon and 66/1 to triumph at the US Open.

Deja vu in Melbourne

There was a sense of deja vu about Monday, though, with this not being the first time Murray has suggested his time at the Australian Open was over. 

In 2019, he was clearly emotional as he announced he was struggling so much with his hip that he had been thinking about how long he could continue at the top level.

That prompted the press to predict his retirement and the Australian Open's organisers took up the thread, broadcasting a farewell video featuring tributes from stars past and present in the aftermath of his turbulent first-round defeat to Robert Bautista Agut. 

Both Murray and his great friend and on-court interviewer Mark Petchey looked taken aback by the situation, and he later had to confirm that he was not planning to retire imminently.

Things have since come full circle and, while he has still not said when he will be hanging up his racquet, Murray's admission that he is unsure whether he will return to Melbourne next year hints that this time he might be ready to call time.

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