KYLE EDMUND led the tributes to his “biggest role model” after Andy Murray announced his intention to retire.
At a tearful press conference ahead of the Australian Open, the Scot laid bare the effects of the pain in his right hip that has dogged him for more than 18 months.
Murray is hoping to able to go out on home soil at Wimbledon in the summer but conceded Monday’s match against Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round in Melbourne could be his last.
Murray has played a mentoring role with a number of British players but none more significant than Yorkshire’s Edmund, who overtook him as the country’s leading player after reaching the semi-finals here 12 months ago.
Beverley’s Edmund said: “For me, he’s been my biggest role model out of any tennis player. He’s Britain’s greatest tennis player ever and you could say maybe Britain’s best sportsman ever.
“To be able to have had the experiences that I’ve had with him and memories in terms of training with him and getting to know him personally and seeing what he’s done on the court and achieved, he’s definitely helped my career.
“It’s obviously not nice to read that he’s going to be retiring at some point but, at the same time, it’s a nice way to reflect his career, knowing that he’s going to be done, and seeing what he’s achieved. It’s been amazing.”
The prevailing feeling among British tennis players was one of sadness, with Johanna Konta saying: “I can’t imagine the sport without him to be honest. He has just been there all the time.”
Murray’s support for women and the women’s game was also appreciated by British No 1 Konta, who said: “There have been so many examples of when he has stood up for us - not just for women’s tennis but women in general.
“He has also been blessed with two daughters and I think he’s grown up with a really strong female role model with his mum and now his wife is also a strong character so he is surrounded by great, strong women.
“He has put that through in the way he has voiced his opinions and the way he has tackled some questions and issues that have arisen and I think everybody has always been very appreciative of him.”
Billie Jean King added her tribute, writing on Twitter: “You are a champion on and off the court. So sorry you cannot retire on your own terms, but remember to look to the future. Your greatest impact on the world may be yet to come. Your voice for equality will inspire future generations. Much love to you and your family.”
German player Andrea Petkovic told reporters: “He was always my favourite, and I think it will be a huge loss for tennis in general, but also for the WTA. Because even nowadays, when you think everything is equal, you still need men, especially successful men, to speak up for women.”
Murray is a well-respected and popular figure in the locker room, and his friends and rivals were quick to add their tributes.
Grigor Dimitrov said: “For sure he will be missed. He’s been a great friend above everything.
“His sense of humour at times is so weird but I enjoy it. We just recently had dinner in Brisbane. He’s overall a great guy, great competitor, loves the sport, gave so much to the sport and proved that with hard work everything is possible.
“I really wish him the best because it’s also a new beginning for the rest of his life. I just hope he can finish at his favourite tournament at Wimbledon.”
Juan Martin Del Potro, who can empathise more than most with Murray’s injury struggles, urged the Scot not to give up.
He wrote on Twitter: “Andy, just watched your conference. Please don’t stop trying. Keep fighting. I can imagine your pain and sadness. I hope you can overcome this. You deserve to retire on your own terms, whenever that happens. We love you @andy_murray and we want to see you happy and doing well.”