In a statement reported by ATPWorldTour.com, he said: “Sadly, I won’t be playing in Melbourne this year, as I am not yet ready to compete. I’ll be flying home shortly to assess all the options, but I appreciate all the messages of support and I hope to be back playing soon.”
Tournament director Craig Tiley added: “We are fully aware that Andy has been going through a difficult period with his hip and that he’s done everything possible to prepare for the Australian summer… This is a very hard decision for Andy and we totally respect it. We wish him the absolute best on his road to recovery and look forward to having him back in Melbourne. He is a true champion and one of our favourites.”
Murray flew into Brisbane this week with the intention of playing in his first tournament in over six months, but it was clear in the exhibition set he played in Doha in his stop-over on the way to Australia that there was still a distinct limp in Murray’s gait.
And if any doubt remained about his fitness, it was dispelled in the emotional Instagram post that announced his withdrawal from Brisbane:
“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.”
In “assessing all the options”, it is likely that hip surgery will now be under consideration, though he has fought to avoid that invasive route:
“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 I 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.”
Murray, who this time last year was No1 after his successful 2016 season, is now ranked 16 and facing the prospect of slipping outside the top 20 for the first time in almost a decade when his fourth-round Australian Open points drop off.
He has not missed the first Major of the year, where he has five times reached the final, since his first appearance in 2006.
The news of Murray’s withdrawal from Melbourne followed that of Kei Nishikori, who has not played since last August due to a wrist injury. Stan Wawrinka, who has also been out of action since Wimbledon and underwent knee surgery in August, is another question mark. The 2014 champion pulled out of an Abu Dhabi exhibition tournament last week.
Novak Djokovic, despite withdrawing from Doha this week with elbow pain, is scheduled to play two exhibition events next week at the Kooyong mixed round-robin event and then the Tie-break Tens evening at Melbourne Park.
The six-time Australian champion has also not played since his quarter-final exit at Wimbledon.
Rafael Nadal, after pulling out of Brisbane this week, is still line up for Melbourne, where he too will play the Tie-break Tens fast-format event as he attempts to prepare for the Australian Open where he was runner-up last year.
After pulling out of Basel in October with a knee injury, Nadal then withdrew from his quarter-final match at the Paris Masters, having sealed the end-of-year No1 ranking, and managed to play only one match at the World Tour Finals.
Johanna Konta had been playing some fine tennis to reach the quarter-finals in Brisbane until a hip problem forced her to retire in the final set against Elina Svitolina.
Konta ended last year with injury problems, and had not won a match since Cincinnati until this week. However, the BBC reports that she hopes to head to Sydney to defend the title she won there last year, in what proved to be a fine start to her 2017 season. Konta went on to reach the quarters at the Australian Open, beaten by eventual champion Serena Williams, and then win her first Premier Mandatory in Miami.
She told the BBC: “I started feeling it in my right hip/groin area in the second game of the third set. I felt a little bit of pain go through there. I couldn’t really load through that right leg.
“As of now, it’s a bit of a waiting game. The most important thing will be to get some physio treatment, have a good night’s sleep, and see where to take it from there.”
In the men’s draw in Brisbane, however, 22-year-old Kyle Edmund continued his progress into the quarters with his second three-set battle of the week. He beat the talented NextGen Finals champion, Hyeon Chung, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4.
Edmund, ranked No50, fought back from a set down in the first round in impressive style to beat Denis Shapovalov, 6-7(5), 7-6 (4), 6-4, but the bar is raised in his next against either top seed Grigor Dimitrov or wildcard John Millman.
Dimitrov is one of only two seeds remaining in the draw, along with No3 Nick Kyrgios, who will next play Alexandr Dolgopolov in the quarters.
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BIOGRAPHY: Eric Bailly