Andy Murray, as disconsolate as he has been for some time after being struck down again by a chronic back injury, said on Wednesday, his 26th birthday, that he would be "surprised" if he were ready to play in the French Open, which starts a week this Sunday.
The world No2 retired from his match against Marcel Granollers after fighting back from a set and 1-4 down to force and win a tie-break and level their match in the second round of the Rome Open. He informed the umpire he could not continue and hurried from the Campo Centrale for treatment, leaving behind a puzzled crowd, who had cheered one of his most impressive comebacks.
This was only the second time in 529 singles matches that Murray has quit a match injured. Six years ago, he retired in Hamburg with a wrist injury that would keep him out of the game for several months. It quite ruined his 20th birthday celebrations that night, and here he looked equally despondent, so close to the second grand slam of the season.
"I've pulled out because there was a good chance I wouldn't be playing [in the third round on Thursday], even if I was to get through," he said. "I'll have to wait and see on Paris but I would be very surprised I were playing there. I will speak with the guys, chat with the physio, come up with a plan, then make a decision on Paris after the next five days. [At the moment], it's unlikely "I was in a bit of pain, the same sort of thing as in Madrid [last week, where he lost in the quarter-finals to Tomas Berdych], when I took a few days off. I hit yesterday, was feeling a little bit better, but it's still sore today.
"It's not been perfect for a long period and obviously I want to try to start feeling very good again, because you always go into matches with little niggles and whatnot, but it is frustrating when for long periods you're hurting."
The injury is the same one that struck him down in the first set of the third round of the French Open last year against Jarkko Nieminin. He got through with a cocktail of pain-killers and reached the quarter-finals then but said on Wednesday that he does not want to go through that experience again. "You can have the injections, they can help a bit with pain and they can take some of the inflammation away, but that also didn't make me feel 100%, and I want to feel 100%."
Murray said the injury has been with him, on and off, since late 2011.
The only player in the top 10 never to retire due to injury during a match is Roger Federer, who, approaching his 32nd birthday, this year took the precaution of taking seven weeks off before returning to the Tour.
Asked if he thought it might require surgery — an option he considered last year — Murray said, "I don't know."
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