An emotional Andy Murray has revealed his heartbreak after another injury setback, which forced his withdrawal from this week’s Brisbane International and left him addressing the case for surgery for the first time.
Murray said he would stay in Brisbane for another few days, on the off-chance that his troublesome right hip cleared up ahead of the Australian Open, which starts a week on Monday. As he admitted yesterday: “Every time I wake up from sleeping or napping I hope that it’s better.”
But, five months and 22 days since he last played on the tour, he is now facing up to the possibility that surgery – which would almost certainly add another six-month delay to his comeback – might be the only chance of a cure.
“I would give anything to be back out there,” Murray said in a statement posted on social media. “I have to reassess my options. It [surgery] is something I may have to consider but let’s hope not.”
Each time Murray withdraws from an event, he does so reluctantly and at the last possible moment – a sign of his pain at seeing each successive opportunity slip away from him – and his chances of playing in Melbourne must now be considered so small that they are almost invisible.
He has done everything he could to avoid the knife, and he explained why on Tuesday: “The chances of a successful outcome are not as high as I would like,” he said. Instead, he has tried “to treat my hip conservatively”, which means lots of physio and strengthening exercises.
But he may now have no alternative than to throw the dice. And the clock is still ticking. If Murray wants to give himself a chance of being back out there at this year’s Wimbledon, any operation would have to come sooner rather than later.
Murray has already taken numerous medical opinions on his troublesome right hip, which flared up after his lengthy French Open semi-final against Stan Wawrinka and has never properly settled down again.
Four to six months is usually listed as the lay-off period required by hip surgery. But that does not include the time it takes to build up your match fitness through tournament play. The rule of thumb used by most tennis experts is that for every month you spend away from the court, it takes another month back on it to regain full conditioning.
The leading orthopaedic surgeon Marc Safran told The Daily Telegraph that, when an elite athlete is sent to him with hip trouble, surgery can usually be avoided about 50 per cent of time. But it now seems that Murray has fallen out on the wrong side of that statistic.
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In all probability, he is suffering from some form of femoroacetabular impingement – better known as FAI – which means that the ball of the hip does not sit neatly in its socket. Irregularities in the hip are often caused by training intensely as a growing teenager, but they can usually be managed in the short term – something Murray was able to do until this year.
Pain and inflammation caused by FAI can be reduced by an operation to reshape the bones. But an even more intractable problem arises when there is damage to the articular cartilage that lines the inside of the hip socket. In Safran’s austere but ominous words, “this leads to less predictably positive outcomes”. We do not know whether Murray has reached this stage but the evidence of the past six months suggests he might have.
Murray is not lacking in motivation, as far as his comeback is concerned.
He illustrated Tuesday’s post with a picture of himself at primary school in Dunblane, and explained: “I choose this pic as the little kid inside me just wants to play tennis and compete … I didn’t realise until these last few months just how much I love this game.”
He concluded by apologising for the length of his 400-word statement and saying that he wanted “to get this off my chest as it’s really hurting inside”.
Harrowing as it might feel, Murray’s latest announcement has not come as a great shock to the tennis world. Asked if he was surprised, by the news, the British No 2 Kyle Edmund replied: “Not really, no. Because no one really knows where he’s at, do they? It sucks that he’s not ready. Everyone wants him to be on court. It’s just rubbish rehabbing, like, the whole time and there’s only so long you can [do it].”
Meanwhile Roger Federer, the Australian Open’s defending champion, said that he expected at least two of his leading rivals to be absent from Melbourne later this month. As Federer put it, “Something tells me that probably two guys out of the five, six that have been injured for a while now probably won’t make it because it seems too many guys are fighting something.”
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