This was not how the script was supposed to read. After the best run of his career in the last two months Andy Murray entered this week's Barclays ATP World Tour Finals here in London as one of the favourites, but a groin injury is threatening to end his participation in the season-ending finale.
After suffering a lacklustre defeat to David Ferrer in his opening round-robin match yesterday Murray revealed that he has been suffering from a groin strain he had suffered in a practice session last week.
The world No 3, who lost 6-4, 7-5, said he would see how he felt today before deciding whether to play his second match tomorrow.
Murray, who had lengthy on-court treatment for the problem at the end of the first set, said it would be “gutting, really gutting” if he had to withdraw from the tournament, but added: “You've got to do the right thing sometimes. I didn't know exactly how it was going to feel on the court today.
“I haven't been able to do too much training this week. I played and didn't feel particularly great. I'll see if I feel any better tomorrow.”
The 24-year-old Scot said it was the first time he had suffered a similar strain, which clearly affected his movement. He added that he would not have attempted to play if it had been a match in any tournament other than here or in a Grand Slam event.
It is a bitter blow for Murray, who has been the game's outstanding player this autumn, winning three tournaments in succession in Asia and enjoying a career-best run of 17 successive victories.
He set himself two targets in the latter part of the season — to improve his world ranking and to do well here — and now injury is threatening both of them. Having taken Federer's No 3 spot in the world rankings, Murray could again swap places with him if he does not win a match this week and the Swiss reaches the final. Murray would almost certainly have to win his remaining two group matches to qualify for the semis — and even then he would not be certain to go through.
Ferrer, the world No 5, is a fine player and formidable athlete who keeps forcing his opponent to hit the extra shot, but Murray had won all five of their previous matches on hard courts. They had met twice in the last two months, the Scot winning in straight sets on both occasions.
Hampered by the injury, however, Murray moved without his usual freedom and made an uncharacteristically large number of mistakes. Normally a model of consistency, he made 44 unforced errors as he struggled to get himself in position to hit the ball. As a comparison, in his first match against Jeremy Chardy at his previous tournament, the Paris Masters, Murray made just nine unforced errors.
Although his disappointment was evident, Murray said he had not given up hope of playing and qualifying for the final weekend.
“In the round-robin format, that's the advantage,” he said. “You can lose and still come through. The last two years I won two matches in the group and one year I went through and one year I didn't.
“I think even sometimes you can go through only winning one match, so there's still a chance.”