When Andy Murray hinted that he might withdraw from the ATP World Tour Finals in London during November to prepare for the Davis Cup final in Belgium a week later, he was letting his sore body do the talking.
It was understandable. When he told Radio 5 Live on Sunday evening that the likely switch from the hard court of the O2 Arena in Greenwich to a drop-in clay court for the Davis Cup final at the Flanders Expo in Ghent would put “a question mark” over his involvement in the former, Murray had not long shaken off the dregs of pain that had flooded his back for five days, although he beat Bernard Tomic in three sets to secure Great Britain’s place in the latter.
He was reminded on Monday, however, that withdrawal would cost him well more than £1m in prize money and incentives, not to mention valuable ranking points before the Australian Open in January, as well as the opprobrium of the ATP. He is reconsidering.
No sooner had the story taken hold than Chris Kermode, the president of the ATP and a friend of Murray’s, issued a carefully worded statement that spelt out the risks the player would run. “The Barclays ATP World Tour Finals is a mandatory event on the ATP World Tour and all players who qualify, unless injured, are required to compete in the event,” he said after hearing about the Murray interview.
He was polite but concerned, adding: “He has had a fantastic season and earned his place among the world’s top eight players to compete at the season finale. We are aware of the comments made after the Davis Cup tie in Glasgow, however our expectations are that, if fully fit, Andy would compete in this year’s tournament. Unless we hear otherwise via an official withdrawal, he is still entered to compete at the O2.”
The irony is that when Roger Federer withdrew from the final last year with a back injury, Kermode rang Murray at home and asked him to rush to the stadium to play an exhibition match against Novak Djokovic – an exhibition match that just about saved the day for the tournament.
Federer then headed for the Davis Cup final, beating France on clay under a temporary roof at Lille’s football ground. He, too, struggled with the injury until the eve of play but battled through it well enough, beating Richard Gasquet in the first reverse singles on the Sunday after losing the opening match to Gaël Monfils on the Friday.
Murray does not want to risk slipping up in any match given his importance to the British cause. Victory would give them the Davis Cup for the first time since 1936, so the pressure is immense.
Murray’s Davis Cup captain, Leon Smith, understands the strain, physical and mental, his fellow Scot has endured and must face again. He has no doubt he is up to it.
“The schedule is such between now and then that he can tailor it to his needs. This is clearly a major goal for him now. He’s a very, very good athlete. He’ll know his body best and how many tournaments he can play.
“It’s all about Andy Murray, one of the best players in the world. He’s got three points this weekend and he did it against France [in the quarter-finals] as well. It’s astounding what he puts himself through, emotionally and physically, to be able to go out and compete.
“There’s not many players who do it, especially the level of players you’re playing against, France and here – he just comes here and does it.”
And if, as seems certain, it is on clay?
“It’s not ideal. It’s a final. You would want as much time as possible on the surface. Traditionally it does take Andy a bit of time to transition surfaces but he’s done it before. The good thing is that his medical team is so switched on to what he needs to do, having enough lead-in time versus having three or four days. They know him really well and how to make that shift.
“Once we know the venue and the surface, it can dictate [selection and preparation]. If it happened to be a clay-court tie, clearly there would be a benefit in getting the players to tailor their schedule around trying to play on clay a bit more beforehand. Not all the time, obviously, because they have to work the rankings but as we draw nearer it would be advantageous to try to look at that as an option.”
Belgium, who beat Argentina 3-2 on Sunday, are scheduled to confirm the venue and surface next week but might do so as early as Wednesday, which would bring Murray’s final decision into focus more quickly.
This article was written by Kevin Mitchell, for theguardian.com on Monday 21st September 2015 22.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010