As a five-time runner-up at the Australian Open, there have been many times in his career that Andy Murray has left Melbourne a broken man, mentally. But though his body will need a little time to recover from the effort of an incredible week, as he heads home this time, his mind will be telling him that his level is as good as it has been for years.

His 6-1, 6-7 (7), 6-3, 6-4 defeat by Roberto Bautista Agut was another remarkable performance, his body crying in pain at the beginning but loosening up as the match went on to the point where somehow, it seemed as if he might pull off another miracle.

That it didn’t happen was down not to will-power or his level of play, quite simply the fact that Bautista Agut was good enough to beat him on an evening when his lack of recovery time left him way too short.

“I think obviously you never know exactly when the end is going to be,” Murray began, as he assessed his game. “I would like to go out playing tennis like this, where I'm competing with the best players in the world in the biggest events and doing myself justice.

“There were maybe times the last year or so where I didn't really feel like I was playing well, and I didn't enjoy the way that I was playing. Those sacrifices (in the off-season) and that effort that I put in allowed me to get through those matches and play at a high level that I think was entertaining for the people watching.

“I felt good about the way that I was playing. It's more enjoyable for me when I'm playing like that, when I'm coming into a major event and really believing that I can do some damage.

“But I can have a deeper run than the third round of a slam, there's no question about that. Obviously draws can open up for you. I need to also help myself with that. If I was playing at this level last year, I probably wouldn't be ranked 50, 60 in the world. It's up to me to try and change that.”

And still, he almost did it. After a first set in which he was so stiff that reaching for his water bottle required him using his other hand to balance on his chair, he somehow saved two set points in the second set and even after losing the third, led 2-0 in the fourth.

His returns were crisp, his backhand nearly perfect and his forehand powerful. Though his serve speed was well down on his first two matches, the casualty of the 14 hours, three minutes he spent on court in all, he had a half-chance in the final game to break back and extend the match further.

“I have lots of mixed emotions,” said an exhausted Murray, after walking slowly into the press conference room. “I feel like I gave everything that I had to this event. So I'm proud of that.

“But I'm also disappointed because I put loads of work into the beginning of this year and was playing well enough to have a really good run, a deep run.

“I think even tonight I'm competing against a guy 20 in the world and it's still very tight considering the circumstances. I'm disappointed because I feel like I could have gone quite a bit further.”

There were fewer than 39 hours between the end of his epic win over Kokkinakis and the start of his match with Bautista Agut, the man he played here in 2019 when it seemed like his career was over.

Four years on, with a metal hip, he just didn’t have enough time to recover and really take the attack to Bautista Agut, as he did in the last three sets with Kokkinakis in what, at five hours, 45-minutes, was the longest match of his career.

“I slept from 6 until 9 the morning I played the match with Kokkinakis, which obviously isn't enough. Then I had to come in here. I had about seven or eight blisters that I had to have drained and then they put this liquid in to dry it. I had to come in in the morning to give that time to settle.

“Then I went back to the hotel, slept for a few hours, and then hit for, like, 15 minutes yesterday, did ice baths, saw my physio.”

Murray said serving was the thing that gave him the most trouble.

“I mean, my back was uncomfortable,” he said. “I couldn't really extend on my serves. I couldn't hit a kick serve. I couldn't really sort of extend my back on the serve to generate much power on the first serve. Wasn't able to really drive up to it. That was the thing that was uncomfortable.

“Once I got in the rallies and stuff, it wasn't really too bad, to be honest. I've felt worse on the court than that. It was just the serve, especially like after I got up from sitting at the end, change out the first couple of serves, didn't feel good.”

But despite the pain and the dodgy scheduling that saw him play past 4am against Kokkinakis, Murray leaves Melbourne encouraged.

Ranked 62, he has very few ranking points to defend before the grass-court season and there are real grounds for optimism that by the time he reaches Wimbledon, he can be seeded, which would mean he would avoid the kind of draw he received here.

“I think my movement here was really good,” he said. “That's something that at times hasn't been great the last 12, 18 months. It's really important for me. When I move well, it allows me to play the game style that is most effective for me.

“I finished a lot of points up at the net during this event, which was really positive. I think of all the players that were playing, I'd finished the most points up at the net and finished a lot of points with winners.

Murray is scheduled to play next in Rotterdam, which begins on Feb 13.