Injury talk gets Murray’s back up
AS THE good and the great assemble in Paris for the start of the French Open today, Andy Murray is trying to find a little peace and quiet. He wishes everyone would just get off his back. For the past six months, he has been troubled by a nagging back injury and while he will not explain exactly what is wrong or what treatment he has had for it, this week he has been at pains to point out that it is really not that bad. Nonetheless, reports of his terminal decline have gathered momentum and just a couple of days ago, Boris Becker suggested in one of the London newspapers that Scotland’s finest should forgo the French Open in order to save himself and his ailing body for the rigours of Wimbledon and the Olympics. That was the final straw and while it may not have broken the back of Dunblane’s most famous camel, it clearly gave him the hump.
“Look, everyone has niggles, of course you do,” Murray said, trying not to sound exasperated. “People are making a massive deal about it – I’m not. That’s all. I’ve had a problem with my back, Rafa’s had problem with his knees, Novak had a problem with his back last year.
“Everybody has problems. I’m not the only one, but sometimes they come at points of the year where it seems like you miss a tournament, you have one bad tournament afterwards, then they say, ‘oh, they’re back problems’ or suddenly they’re threatening my career. But it’s not. It’s just a problem I’ve got to deal with and at the end of the year I’ll get time to rest and recover and let it get better.”
By this stage, Murray had been fielding back injury questions for most of the day and he had had enough. With more than enough to occupy his time before the second grand slam tournament of the year – and in practise he appeared to be as fit as a flea – he had not had either the time or the inclination to read the papers. As a result, he was unaware of the medical bulletins and was caught off guard by the subsequent barrage of questions. It was time to set the record straight.
“It’s just the question I’ve been asked today,” Murray said. “I haven’t read or heard anything. Everybody’s just asking. All the TV interviews out there and they’re wondering how my back is, am I under-prepared for the tournament, am I OK to play? I also got asked a few days ago. One of the ladies that works with me has been getting messages from the press saying he’s going to pull out of the French Open. I don’t know where it’s all come from. So: my back’s going to be fine for the tournament. That’s not a problem.”
Even so, Murray’s form on clay this year has been poor by his standards. Last year he reached the semi-finals in Monte Carlo and Rome and then went on to reach the last four at Roland Garros. By the time the clay court season was over, the world No.4 had proved to himself and his nearest rivals that he could mix it with the big boys on the slow, red dirt. This time around he was pummelled in quarter-finals in Monte Carlo, pulled out of Madrid with that sore back and only got to the third round in Rome because – and there is a theme developing here – of his back problems. Now he has one of the most physically demanding tournaments in the calendar to face so it is hardly surprising that the critics and pundits are asking questions.
Murray’s coach, Ivan Lendl, missed the French Open in 1991 and 1992 in order to concentrate all his energies on winning Wimbledon but there was not a hint of old Stone Face suggesting that the Scot follow his lead. And, anyway, by the time Lendl was skipping Roland Garros he had already won the title three times. Murray does not have that luxury and so he has been sweating in the Paris sunshine to test his back before he begins his campaign against Tatsuma Ito, the world No.69 from Japan.
“If I didn’t believe I could win the French, there would be no point in my being here,” Murray said. “The reason Ivan did it was because he’d won all of the other slams and he wanted to try to win all four. That was the reason he skipped the French Open.
“If I was at the end of my career and I only had Wimbledon left to win – which would be a nice position to be in – I’d consider it. But right now there is no reason for me not to play the French Open. If I didn’t think I could win it I wouldn’t be playing tennis, no point being here otherwise.
“I’ve tested the back out. I played the best of five sets a few days ago. I played a few sets yesterday, practised twice yesterday. I’ve been playing enough. I’ve taken two days off since my back injury. I’ve been practising most days because that’s what I’ve needed to do to get ready for the tournament.”
And Murray will have to be ready if he is to plough through the next two weeks. His draw is littered with awkward and stubborn opponents – Bernard Tomic in the third round, Alexandr Dolgopolov in the fourth, David Ferrer in the quarters – and that is before he gets to Rafael Nadal in the semis. Still, if he can get that far in the tournament then his work in Paris will be complete: he will have defended his ranking points and proved that he can deal with the best on this most frustrating of surfaces. Maybe then the Boris Beckers of this world will finally get off his back and give him some peace.
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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