THE champion cut down in his prime is one of sport’s enduring and most affecting tropes. But what makes the strange case of Andy Murray even more agonising is the self-inflicted nature of it all. It is a few years ago now, I think after his Wimbledon win of 2016, that the Scot had first mentioned – almost matter of factly – in an interview with various of us tennis hacks, that knowing what he does now, he wouldn’t have trained the way he did earlier in his career. This chimed with comments from Jamie Baker, a veteran of Murray’s Miami training blocks, who told me that if his old friend continued to train in the same manner he would be lucky to still be playing at 30. For the record, Baker only lasted till the age of 26.

What he meant by this was that Murray himself had made it a badge of honour to build him up to be the strongest, fittest, version of himself that he could be. Who could forget him flexing his muscles after sending down a booming first serve, a riposte to those critics earlier in his career who said he had all the shots but perhaps not quite staying the power.

He didn’t just do it for vanity’s sake. This was, you will remember, the years when a nuclear arms race of sorts was taking over the sport, where the likes of Novak Djokovic could play five hours in an Australian Open semi-final one day, then get up the next day and do it all over again in the final.

Murray had to keep pace, or be left behind. Just to get a foothold in this greatest ever era – three Grand Slam wins – he had to go above and beyond. As much as these guys seemed superhuman, they were in fact flesh and blood.

The sport is already paying the price for its greatest ever era, and a year after ascending to the summit of the sport, there are now severe question marks as to whether the Scot will ever be the same player again. One back surgery down, he is now six months into a troubling hip injury for which there are no easy answers. What, essentially, the Scot is going through now if payback for exactly how much he was prepared to push himself through earlier in his career.

For those who haven’t been following the news or aren’t on social media, the 30-year-old posted on Instagram yesterday to announce his withdrawal from the Brisbane International tennis tournament due to his ongoing hip issues.

He did far more than that though: he also laid bare that he would now ‘have to reassess his options’. Surgery, a previously rejected idea, was suddenly back on the table.

Even if the one option which would alleviate all symptoms for good in order to allow him to walk pain free for the remainder of his career would likely end his career there and then, while a lesser, keyhole option would again facilitate much time off and would not even be guaranteed to fix all the problems.

While the Scot will wait until the weekend before clarifying if he will take part in the Australian Open, that Instagram post appeared to be bracing his supporters for the worst.

There is, of course, a danger in over-reacting. Because at times on his rehab it has seemed like the Scot’s army of followers have been living this injury with him. And why not, because they have shared plenty of good times too. While he clearly appeared to be favouring that hip when asked to break into a full stride at the Andy Murray Live event in November, as recently as a one-set, 6-2 defeat to Roberto Bautista Agut in Abu Dhabi a few days back, the 30-year-old was feeling upbeat about his progress.

“My hip feels way better than it did at Wimbledon,” he said. “At Wimbledon, I almost made the semi-finals. So if it’s better than that, its positive.”

But at other times such positive, upbeat noises have seemed almost like wishful thinking.

When you consider the cottage industry which has been invested in him – the coaches, physios,

managers, hitting partners, fans, media – it would be understandable if there has been a reluctance on Murray’s behalf just to countenance the doomsday scenario.

Will that hip ever be robust enough to recover for the seven matches which will be required if he is to have designs on capturing more Grand Slams?

“When he lost the French Open final [in 2016],” said his fitness trainer Matt Little after his 2016 Wimbledon win, “we were sitting around the table having a discussion that night to say ‘how much harder can we push you?’ ‘How much extra can we get out of you?’. There were some soul-searching moments there actually.”

That perhaps is what Murray meant that day when he said he regretted having trained too hard – perhaps he went all-in, too early.

But whatever transpires in the next weeks, months and years, one day the Scot should be free to retire from the sport unburdened by any regrets whatsoever. Clearly a return to competitive tennis still spurs him on. It remains foolhardly to bet against him.


Andy Murray's statement in full

“HEY everyone ... Just wanted to write a little message on here for anyone interested in what in going through right now.

“Firstly I want to apologise to @brisbanetennis for withdrawing at late notice and to everyone who wanted to come along to watch me play (or lose). The organisers couldn’t have been more understanding and supportive and I’ll always remember that. Thank you.

“I’ve obviously been going through a really difficult period with my hip for a long time and have sought counsel from a number of hip specialists. Having been recommended to treat my hip conservatively since the US Open I have done everything asked of me from a rehab perspective and worked extremely hard to try to get back on the court competing. Having played practice sets here in Brisbane with some top players unfortunately this hasn’t worked yet to get me to the level I would like so I have to reassess my options. Obviously continuing rehab is one option and giving my hip more time to recover. Surgery is also an option but the chances of a successful outcome are not as high as I would like, which has made this my secondary option and my hope has been to avoid that. However this is something I may have to consider but let’s hope not.

“I choose this pic as the little kid inside me just wants to play tennis and compete. I genuinely miss it so much and I would give anything to be back out there. I didn’t realise until these last few months just how much I love this game. Everytime I wake up from sleeping or napping I hope that it’s better and it’s quite demoralising when you get on the court it’s not at the level you need it to be to compete at this level.

“In the short term I’m going to be staying in Australia for the next couple of days to see if my hip settles down a bit and will decide by the weekend whether to stay out here or fly home to assess what I do next.

“Sorry for the long post but I wanted to keep everyone in the loop and get this off my chest as it’s really hurting inside. Hope to see you back on the court soon.”