Tennis-Murray's long farewell begins with emotional doubles defeat

By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) - It may not quite be the end for British great Andy Murray at Wimbledon but it felt like it as the 37-year-old received an emotional farewell after he and brother Jamie were beaten in the first round of the men's doubles on Thursday.

Murray, regarded as one of his country's all-time great sportsmen, returned to the scene of his two Wimbledon titles barely two weeks after surgery to remove a spinal cyst.

That injury, one of the many that have plagued the Scot in the latter years of his remarkable career, ruled Murray out of making one last singles appearance before he retires.

But wild horses would not keep him off the Wimbledon turf one more time and it felt fitting that the brothers from the Scottish town of Dunblane partnered up on the hallowed lawns for the first time in a Grand Slam.

Australian duo Rinky Hijikata and John Peers provided the opposition although, for once, the result felt secondary, even if Murray's ferocious competitive spirit still burned brightly as the light faded on Centre Court.

The crowd, which included Murray's wife Kim, eldest daughters Sophia and Edie, mum Judy and dad William, feared an abrupt ending to his last Wimbledon, 19 years after his first, when he pulled up clutching his back after a couple of games.

He soldiered on though and produced some flashes of the brilliance that saw him become the first British man for 77 years to win Wimbledon in 2013, having won the U.S. Open and Olympics the year before, and Wimbledon again in 2016.

Hijikata and Peers won 7-6(6) 6-4 and although Murray is still scheduled to play mixed doubles with compatriot and fellow Grand Slam winner Emma Raducanu, it proved an opportune moment to celebrate the career of the former world number one.

On came Sue Barker, the doyen of BBC sport presenters, while former champions Novak Djokovic, Martina Navratilova, Conchita Martinez and John McEnroe joined a throng of British players on court.

A montage of Murray's career highlights was played on a video screen with tributes from Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal -- the three greats Murray went toe-to-toe with so many times throughout his career.

After wiping away a few tears, Murray was asked by Barker about some of his favourite moments -- picking out his 2012 Olympic final win over Federer and his second Wimbledon title in 2016 as the ones he enjoyed the most.

Although he said he had not enjoyed his spine-tingling victory over Djokovic on Centre Court in 2013 enough -- saying it had been a stressful experience.

There were even some comic revelations from a the self-depreciating Scot who took a few years to earn his nation's affection but was eventually taken to their hearts.

"I felt way less pressure and I enjoyed it more and that was the favourite of my Slams," Murray said of his 2016 Wimbledon final triumph over Canadian Milos Raonic which was followed months later by his ride to world number one.

"I don't remember much of that night. I had a few drinks and I did unfortunately vomit in the cab on the way home."

On a more serious note, Murray said he wished he could "play forever" but his battle-scarred body, including a hip that required career-saving resurfacing surgery in 2019, would no longer allow it.

"Physically it's just too tough now. All of the injuries have added up. I love this sport. It's given me so much, taught me loads of lessons over the years that I can use for the rest of my life. I don't want to stop so it is hard."

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge)