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Prolonged rest or surgery now on cards for emotional Murray

 

By Paul Newman

You could tell from Andy Murray's demeanour at his press conference here on Saturday night how hard he had tried to make the starting line-up for the US Open, which starts here today.

The 30-year-old Scot appeared to be close to tears as he revealed that he was having to pull out of the tournament because of his ongoing hip problem.

"This is actually why I didn't want to come in here," an emotional Murray said after it was announced that he would be making a brief statement to explain his withdrawal.

Murray took a few moments to compose himself before explaining that he had done everything to try to get fit for the year's concluding Grand Slam tournament, but that the pain from his hip injury was too great.

It was scarcely believable to hear afterwards complaints from some quarters - mostly but not exclusively from ill-informed fans - about the timing of the No.2 seed's withdrawal.

If Murray had pulled out before the draw, which was conducted at midday on Friday, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer would have been seeded No.1 and No.2 respectively, meaning they could meet only in the final, which is clearly what many people would have loved to see.

However, Nadal (No.1 seed) and Federer (No.3 seed) had been put on course for a semi-final collision instead and, following tournament rules, they stayed in their places in the tweaked draw following Murray's withdrawal. Instead, Marin Cilic, the highest seed outside the top four, moved into the Scot's place in the draw, with Slovakia's Lukas Lacko slotted into the line-up as a lucky loser.

Quite apart from the fact that it would have been making enormous assumptions to suggest that Nadal and Federer would win all their matches to reach the final, the criticism of Murray's timing seemed to ignore the fact that he had made an honest and highly commendable attempt to be fit to play here.

The Scot has not competed since he limped to defeat against Sam Querrey in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, having suffered with a hip problem ever since his loss in the semi-finals of the French Open early in June.

Murray pulled out of the Masters Series tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati after Wimbledon in an attempt to give his hip time to heal and arrived here early in the hope that he could work his way back to fitness.

He was still practising on Saturday afternoon and made the decision to pull out of the tournament only 20 minutes before his press conference, which had been scheduled as part of his pre-tournament media commitments.

Murray left Flushing Meadows immediately after that press conference and is expected to make a decision about his immediate future within the next few days. Although he has never disclosed the nature of his hip problem, which he has said had been an issue - though never to this extent - for several years, surgery is understood to be one of the options open to him.

The Scot had been hoping instead that rest would resolve the problem but said that he had run out of time. It is only just over six weeks since he lost at Wimbledon at the end of an intense period of competition during which he had put his body under great stress.

If there is a reluctance to go under the surgeon's knife, that is understandable. When Murray finally had back surgery in 2014, it was only after years of dealing with what had become a chronic problem.

The temptation for Murray might be to take a prolonged break and even to follow the examples of Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori, who are not playing again this year because of their injuries. Federer took that route last year after suffering a knee problem at Wimbledon and has returned in 2017 to play some of the best tennis of his career.

Nevertheless, Murray said that he was still hoping that he will compete again this year. For one thing, he will want to play in his "Andy Murray Live" charity event in Glasgow in November, at which Federer is due to be making his first appearance in Scotland. If Murray is not fit to play, the event may have to be rescheduled.

Hip injuries are a common problem in tennis. Nick Kyrgios has been dealing with one for a while now, while Greg Rusedski, Gustavo Kuerten and Magnus Norman all had their careers ended by hip injuries. Lleyton Hewitt, David Nalbandian and Tommy Haas also suffered with hip issues through their careers.

One of the problems is the increasingly physical nature of the game, particularly in an age when the majority of tournaments are played on hard courts. Apart from the period between mid-April and mid-July, when the tour moves on to clay and then to grass, the rest of the year is spent on unforgiving hard courts.

Murray is a tireless worker, who is prepared to push himself through pain barriers.

There had already been speculation that one of the reasons why he had a number of physical issues in the first three months of this year, including a bout of shingles and an elbow injury, was because he had taken so little rest in the off season following his remarkable exertions in reaching the World No.1 position at the end of 2016.

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