Jibes about his back injury have prompted Andy Murray to reveal he had eight pain-killing injections ahead of the French Open
ANDY Murray is angry, very angry, and, on the eve of Wimbledon, that most genteel of sporting occasions, he has come out fighting. If anyone dares to suggest one more time that Scotland’s finest is a cry-baby or a hypochondriac, they will have Murray and the medics to deal with.
Ever since he staggered through his second-round match at the French Open last month, felled by spasms in his back but somehow managing to beat Jarkko Nieminen, Murray has been both criticised and mocked for his response to injuries and pain.
The good, the great and those who are merely paid to pontificate have lined up to take potshots at the Scot – and now Murray has had enough.
“I think eight pain-killing injections in your back before the French Open justifies a genuine injury,” he harrumphed.
“Physically, I’m absolutely perfect [now]. I’m just saying that, if someone is going to say to me that my back injury is not genuine, they can come see my reports from the doctors, they can see the pictures of a needle about eight inches long in my back. I’m not accepting it anymore because it’s not fair.”
Murray has been struggling with a back problem since the start of the season and has been advised that the only real cure is time and rest – two luxuries the Scot can ill afford in the middle of a packed Olympic year.
As a result, he had to resort to the injections which, if all goes according to plan, should give him pain relief for the next few months, a span that will take him through Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open at the end of the summer. The back spasms he had at the French Open were not part of the original injury, although they may have been the result of a knock-on from the problem and the subsequent treatment.
“I’m not going to go into details of what the injury is but it’s a problem I had for a while at the beginning of the year,” Murray said.
“I played through it for five months and it just got worse and then I took the injections and it feels better since I had them done. Simple.
“Hopefully they’ll last for a while. From everything the doctors told me, they should do.
“Guys get painkillers and painkilling injections before big events all the time and you need to take them at the right time because they do last for quite a long time but you don’t exactly want them to wear off.”
Virginia Wade was the first to have her say, calling Murray a “drama queen” as he hobbled around the court in Paris.
John McEnroe jumped in next, claiming that Murray’s back was between his ears (which, actually, would have explained the limp), while fellow player Tommy Haas lobbed his brickbats from the safety of the Halle tournament in Germany.
“Sometimes he looks like he can barely move,” Haas sniped, “then on comes the trainer and then he moves like a cat. I believe everyone knows this now. People talk about it in the locker room.”
Then again, Haas has never forgiven Murray for beating him at Indian Wells in 2007.
The Scot fell over in the second set, twisting his ankle, bruising his hip and gashing his knee, and yet still found a way to beat his more experienced foe – Murray was just 19 at the time – in three sets.
But it was McEnroe’s jibes which seemed to have hurt Murray most. The American motor-mouth suggested that the Scot’s problems were more a reflection of his state of mind than of the physical state of his back.
Recalling his playing days, McEnroe said that he, too, had suffered from back issues but usually it was when he was tense or anxious. Murray was not having that. “A lot of people have suggested that it hasn’t been genuine,” Murray said.
“I’ve got a genuine injury, a genuine back problem, it’s not a mental thing. Often when things do start to get better, for a little while you can be over-sensitive in that area and think: ‘Oh, is that maybe right? Is that not right?’ or whatever but, with my back problem, it’s certainly nothing that’s mental. It’s something that’s there.”
Murray’s decision to have the pain-killing injections cannot have been taken lightly. Andre Agassi followed a similar course of treatment towards the end of his career and described the process of having a doctor probe and prod his back with a massive hypodermic needle, then pumping in the painkilling concoction to the very heart of the injury, as making him feel “like my back would burst”.
Murray, who had all eight jabs done at the same time, shrugged it off. “Ah, it was fine,” he said.
But, at least for the moment, life is quiet and calm. The injections appear to have worked their magic and his back is in pretty good nick and, with Wimbledon about to begin, the pundits will be too busy with the live action tomorrow to bother with Murray’s past medical conditions.
Now is the time when Murray can batten down the hatches in his Surrey home and ignore everything that is said and written about him. As a veteran of six previous campaigns in SW19, he has his own routines to cope with the stresses and strains of being Britain’s only realistic contender for the title.
Only spending time with his girlfriend, Kim Sears, and a couple of close friends, he will keep himself away from “Andymonium” and all the media mayhem that surrounds the All England Club. With the missus in charge of the catering – although Murray will occasionally volunteer to chop the odd carrot – the world No.4 can relax and try to keep life on an even keel for the next two weeks.
“I think for the two weeks of the tournament you are trying to relax a bit on the days off,” he said, “but, for me, you still have to make sure you are eating the right things and watching your diet. You have to make sure you are hydrated and taking all the vitamins and stuff. It’s not like you completely switch off – you still have to do all the right things for your preparation.”
Once the tournament actually starts, life become much simpler. There are the usual daily chores to attend to – practice, physio, rest – and then the actual business of the matches. The draw has done him few favours with Nikolay Davydenko, once the world No.3 but now the No.47 and hardly a grass court specialist, in the first round and potentially the huge serving power of Ivo Karlovic to face in the second. And, yet again, he is seeded to meet Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals.
Last year, Murray also faced the Spaniard in the last four and, for a set and few games, appeared to be on his way to a remarkable victory. But then one missed forehand, one that would have given him break point in the second set, cost him dear. Nadal ran off with the next seven games and Murray’s chance had gone. Such is the nature of tennis, particularly grass court tennis. A five-set, five-hour marathon can be decided by one split-second decision or error of judgment.
“On that given day when I played Rafa I needed an extra maybe five per cent,” Murray said. “I think that would have been sufficient. Since then, some days I’ve had it, some days I haven’t. I need to make sure the days when I’m playing my best tennis are more regular than they have been over the last few months, but we’ll see at the end of Wimbledon. There’s no point talking about it now because we don’t know. Time will tell. In two weeks we’ll find out.”
Talk, then, is cheap and Murray will pay no heed to it unless, of course, you mention his back. Then his ears will prick up and he will listen intently – no one will be allowed to mess with Murray. Not anymore.
The commentators, pundits and talking heads have been warned.
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