If this was the end then Andy Murray left the Australian Open with some glorious, heroic reminders of why he was once, fairly briefly, the best player in the world.
There was the competitive spirit, the chuntering, the wonderful shots, piercing returns and examples of marvellous defensive play. And at the end there was emotion, the 31-year-old Scot humbled by the support of the host nation.
But ultimately the sustained quality to overcome someone of Roberto Bautista Agut’s calibre was not quite there, and he went down 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 6-2 before leaving the Melbourne Arena as he had arrived, to a thunderous ovation from a predominantly Australian crowd.
Andy Murray sighs after losing a point during his Australian Open first-round match against Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut
This could well be the end for Murray, who has been hampered by an ongoing hip injury over the last year and beyond
The British tennis legend was clearly struggling with his long-term hip injury as he battled through the match in Melbourne
Murray stretches to reach a forehand, and there were glimpses of the former world No 1 at his best at stages of the match
Bautista Agut had never taken a set off Murray before their first round match at this year’s Australian Open on Monday
There were times in the third set, particularly after breaking back to go 3-2 up, that Murray showed shades of his peak ability
The former world No 1 turns to the adoring crowd to celebrate after a winning point during his Australian Open first round tie
Against the world No 24 this was more than perfectly respectable, it was often brilliant, but it was beyond the Scot, who can no longer mount the kind of sustained challenge that saw him reach five finals at this venue.
He can still hit the ball with precision and superb timing, and there were times – such as when he broke back for 2-2 in the third set with a stunning backhand to first gain some serious momentum and ignite the contest– when he could bring the crowd to its feet.
Playing like this, Murray could beat at least two thirds of the field here. No wonder he does not want to quit when everything still functions so well apart from the blasted hip, its effects in this match deadened by painkillers and adrenaline.
What a stunning contrast to the forlorn figure he cut last Thursday, when his drubbing in practice by Novak Djokovic reduced him to despair. His subsequent tearful press conference appears to have been cathartic.
That will not dull the immediate pain of defeat, however, as such a ferocious competitor will know he could have finished the job off. At 0-1 and 0-30 down in the decider Bautista Agut was unravelling, but a series of marginal errors let him back in.
What the match will tell him upon sober reflection is that he is still capable of overcoming high class opponents, should he wish to preserve.
Murray sits in his chair, exhausted, following his four-hour-and-eight-minute epic against Spaniard Bautista Agut in Australia
The Brit takes the applause of the crowd after winning a hard-fought and emotional point in the third set of the match
There was still plenty of life left in Murray as he won back-to-back tie-breaks to take the match to a fifth and final set
Murray bites his fist in frustration after missing a return deep into the third set of his first-round defeat by Bautista Agut
Murray grimaces during the match, which he has previously admitted could well be his last due to ongoing injury problems
Murray’s brother Jamie and mum Judy were both front and centre to watch what could turn out to be his last ever match
Bautista Agut vs Murray
50 per cent (5/10)
72 per cent (23/32)
31 per cent (49/156)
191 kmph (119 mph)
1st Serve In
Break points won
Net points won
Receiving points won
20 per cent (1/5)
68 per cent (23/34)
23 per cent (34/147)
208 mph (129 mph)
Murray had walked out onto one of his favourite courts, the Melbourne Arena (No 3 at this venue), to the kind of reception rarely awarded to sportsmen from the UK in Australia.
Among those watching were his mother Judy, Davis Cup Captain Leon Smith and his ex-coach and close friend Dani Vallverdu. Unusually, they were joined after five games by brother Jamie, who is a rare sight in his supporters’ box.
Murray had said he would ingest some painkillers for this match and, whatever it was, he looked sprightly enough in the early exchanges, as well as hitting serves of nearly 130 mph.
For Bautista Agut it was always going to be an awkward task, especially with nobody supporting him, but he was soon sticking by his trusted method of hitting the ball flat and hard.
It was good enough to bring him the ATP Qatar title nine days ago and he has been in his best form.
Murray responded well and the Spaniard may have wondered whether this was pretty much the exact same player who has beaten him three times out of three previously.
As darkness fell over Melbourne, the crowd was at capacity to watch Murray and Bautista battle it out at the Australian Open
The Brit takes a moment of rest against the advertising boards after sprinting to reach a return against his Spanish opponent
With the conditions sweltering in Melbourne, Australia, Murray needed to change his t-shirt during a break in play
The Australian crowd, not historically known to be the biggest Murray fans, were hugely in favour of the former world No 1
The two-time Wimbledon champion catches his racket after throwing it high into the Melbourne sky after a losing point
Murray tosses the ball up for a serve during his first-round match against the No 22 seed Bautista Agut on Monday evening
Indeed it was the Scot who had the first chance to break, at 4-3, but he fluffed his backhand into the net. That stroke, so reliable normally, was a little more erratic than we are accustomed to seeing.
The chance gone, Bautista Agut broke in the next game when Murray stuck a forehand in the net. If anything it was an encouraging sign that he was furious, chuntering to both himself and his support team in the stands.
Murray had two more break chances early in the second set which went begging and then was broken at 2-2 when the Spaniard worked his way into the net. Again it looked more like ring-rust and restricted practice as much as any physical shortcoming.
There was a full house in the stadium to watch Murray play in his Australian Open first-round match against Bautista Agut
‘There will only ever be one Andy Murray. Thanx for the memories’ read one homemade banner in the Australian crowd
With the pain clearly affecting him, Murray reaches to fire back a return to Bautista Agut during their fascinating match-up
There were shades of peak Murray during stages of the first-round match, including when he broke back in the third set
The tennis legend looks up to his team, including mum Judy and brother Jamie, to celebrate winning a hard-fought point
Mum Judy beamed with pride throughout, and appeared to have tears in her eyes as the match headed towards its conclusion
World No 24 Bautista Agut, who will go on to face Australian John Millman in the second round, leaps to return a shot
It was in the third that he properly roused himself, missing a set point at 5-4 but then making amends with a wonderful tie-break in which he applied enough pressure, old style, to break the nerve of his opponent.
Bautista Agut made a desperate hash of a volley at 5-4 and after Murray had closed it out he went and sat back on his bench, exhorting the crowd to further get behind him. He knows that there will never be rushes like this again when it is all over, and that is powerful fuel.
The Spaniard reduced his unforced error count in the fourth set as the quality of exchanges went up from both men. Murray will only have been too aware that this was the same player who collapsed from two sets up against Cameron Norrie when GB played Spain in the Davis Cup last year, although his level of play remained superior this time compared to that strange afternoon in Marbella.
Ever the perfectionist, Murray was seen getting frustrated with himself during a break between games at the Australian Open
No 22 seed Bautista Agut watches his serve fly over the net during his first-round victory against Murray at Melbourne Park
At times, the crowd were on their feet to celebrate Murray’s winning points, and he did not go down without a fight
Murray reaches a backhand return during his hard-fought, and at times emotional, battle against Bautista Agut on Monday
The Brit, hampered so much by an ongoing hip injury, screams with frustration as the second set begins to slip away
Murray was in his element in the tie-break, fighting a rearguard action against an increasingly tremulous opponent. With the Spaniard wavering the twice-Wimbledon champion drew on all his muscle and mental memory to prevail, soaring ahead to 6-1 and then finishing it off with a swinging serve at 6-4 that Bautista Agut could only parry into the net.
Murray looked to have him on the rack at 1-0 and 0-30 against serve in the decider but four errors let the Spaniard back in and he was broken in the next game. He had scented blood but been unable to go in for the kill.
The disappointment haunted him and he was broken twice from there, with more signs of his injury becoming apparent as he rued the missed opportunity while clearly being deeply touched by affection of the crowd who rose to him after four hours and nine minutes of combat.
Murray looks up at the scoreboard during a break in play as he drinks iced water and dries himself off with a towel
Spaniard Bautista Agut could go down in history as Murray’s last ever opponent, in the first round at the 2019 Australian Open
Murray stares down the ball before hitting a rasping forehand back to Bautista Agut during their incredible first-round battle
Before leaving the court Murray was shown a video tribute from his peers, but just about kept himself together. He left the door open for the remote possibility that he might come back while thanking the crowd.
‘That was incredible. Thank you so much to everyone who came out tonight. Honestly, I’ve loved playing here over the years. It’s an amazing place to play tennis,’ he said.
‘If it was my last match, it was an amazing way to end. I literally gave everything I had. It wasn’t enough tonight, so congratulations to Roberto and his team.
‘Maybe I’ll see you again. I’ll do everything possibly to try. If I want to go again, I’ll need to have a big operation where there are no guarantees I will be able to come back from. I will give it my best shot.’
Plenty of fans had travelled across the globe from Scotland to Australia to watch their hero play in his potential last ever tie
Right at the back of the court, Murray stretches to return a forehand smash as the clock ticks past the two-hour mark
Spaniard Bautista Agut stretches as far as he possibly can to reach a return close to the net in his match against Murray