MELBOURNE • Andy Murray's plan is to hang on until Wimbledon, to possibly bid tennis a fond farewell at home, where his status is secure as Britain's greatest player.
But he acknowledged that the possibility existed that he would not be able to play even a few more months amid a painful and debilitating hip condition.
After his Australian Open campaign came to a premature end yesterday, the Scot revealed he would decide on further surgery that could end his career "within a week".
He told reporters: "I have basically like two options. One is to take the next 41/2 months off, then build up, you know, play Wimbledon.
"I mean, I'm really struggling. I can't walk properly at all just now. I could play another match, but I want to improve my quality of life because even if I take four months, I still can't walk.
"But having an operation like that, there's absolutely no guarantees I'd be able to play again. I'm fully aware of that. It's a really big operation."
In the fourth hour of his slugfest with Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut, Murray bowed out with a gutsy 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (4-7), 6-2 first-round loss that brought a prolonged standing ovation from the Melbourne Park crowd.
The 31-year-old was emotional as he addressed the fans, saying: "If this was my last match, as you say, it was an amazing way to end the game. But it wasn't enough tonight so congratulations to Roberto. Maybe I'll see you again. I'll do everything possible to try. But I'll give it my best shot. If this is my last match, I gave everything."
Murray had entered a raucous arena to a huge ovation as Scottish flags and Union Jacks were flown while one banner proclaimed: "There will only ever be one Andy Murray".
I GAVE MY ALL
If this was my last match, as you say, it was an amazing way to end the game. But it wasn't enough tonight.
ANDY MURRAY, who is uncertain if he can last till his home Grand Slam in July.
The rollicking support lifted him and despite frequently grimacing with pain, he showed several glimpses of the tenacity and grit that saw him lift three Grand Slam titles.
Agut, who will face unseeded Australian John Millman in the second round tomorrow, called it "an incredible night" as a big-screen tribute from a whole phalanx of the world's top tennis players, including Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Caroline Wozniacki and Sloane Stephens was shown after the match.
With his mother Judy recording the moment on her phone and brother Jamie watching on, Murray declared "it was a very special thing to have the respect of your peers".
"I've been very fortunate - and unlucky - to compete in an era with all those great players around."
In the earlier matches, Nadal showed no signs of any injury worries and no mercy in a thumping of 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 Australian wildcard James Duckworth. The Spaniard will next play another Australian in Matthew Ebden tomorrow.
Swiss Federer also warmed up for a run at a record seventh Major Down Under and his 21st overall by breezing past Uzbek Denis Istomin 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 to set up a clash with Britain's Dan Evans.
In the women's draw, Danish defending champion Wozniacki, Germany's Angelique Kerber and Russian Maria Sharapova all eased into the next round.
WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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