THERE are few surer signs of sporting mortality than the conferment of a knighthood. The tap on the shoulder is a feared move throughout zero-contract, redundancy threatened Britain. When it is conducted with the aid of a ceremonial sword it normally indicates that the sun is setting on those glorious days of sporting achievement.

Sir Andrew Barron Murray will bridle at this observation, noting with some justification that he is not yet 30 and has just become the best tennis player in the world but the latest accolade may just cause a moment’s reflection as he prepares for the first major of 2017. It certainly prompts contemplation in those who have followed his career for the best part of two decades. What, one ponders, is the latest instalment of Sir Andy and His Search for The Holy Grail? The obvious answer is a dedicated, driven attempt to retain his No1 status and add to his haul of three grand slam victories.

Bur Sir Andy knows that the clock is ticking before he is carried out on his shield. There has been talk of playing on for “three or four years” but the Scotsman has painful experience of the brutal reality of modern tennis. This is an endurance sport and all the sports science, rehab and training blocks cannot protect a player against the grind of swishing a racket and sprinting in lung-aching, relentless episodes for sometimes four hours and beyond.

Murray, who celebrates his 30th birthday on May 17, has had surgery on his wrist and back, has a bipartite patella (a split kneecap in layman’s terms) and uses supports on his ankles. He also struggles intermittently will strains to his shoulders and legs. He suffers for his art.

There is no reason yet to pen sporting obituaries but Sir Andy is nearer to the end than to the beginning in career terms. His body will remind him of this truth every morning, though his mind will be focused on adding to his triumphs before the inevitable occurs.

The acceptance of a knighthood might be a subconscious nod to this reality. He has regularly stated that he would find it uncomfortable to be Sir Andy in the raucous, roistering atmosphere of the locker room. Perhaps in some small way he is already adjusting to life beyond the professional court.

The birth of his daughter has certainly caused him to ponder life at the top. He has spoken about how his family has made sacrifices for him and praised his wife, Kim, for her support. This is a father and husband who works away from home and believes that the importance of family overrides any sporting success.

Sir Andy is on his final charge. It may last for three years, even four. It has been spectacular, unprecedented. But what will happen next?

He has spoken about his interest in property, he will immerse himself more fully in charity work but can he walk away completely from tennis?

The answer to this may be found in an arena in Gleneagles on Boxing Day. The holy grail might just still lie on a hard court. Sir Andy this week took to the role of unlikely commoner. He raced around a spot of Scottish real estate, playing and working with tennis juniors.

They were predictably ecstatic. He seemed happy, even fulfilled. He will want to give back to the sport that has consumed so much of his life.

This knight’s tale has the capacity for further inspiration.