Andy Murray's worst fears were realised tonight when he was forced to withdraw from next week's French Open. After consulting medical specialists and taking advice from his own entourage, the Scot decided not to take the risk of further aggravating the recurrent back injury which saw him retire mid-match for only the second time in his career at last week's Rome Masters.
A factor in Murray's decision was his desire not to jeopardise his chances at Wimbledon, which starts in less than five weeks' time. He will now take the opportunity to rest and have further treatment on his back before concentrating on his preparations for the grass-court season.
"It's a really tough decision and I love playing in Paris, but after seeking medical advice, I am not fit to compete," Murray said tonight. "Apologies to the organisers and thanks to everyone for the messages of support. Now my complete focus is on getting back on the court as soon as possible."
Murray first felt the injury in his lower back at the end of 2011 and needed eight pain-killing injections to play in last year's French Open. Although the treatment helped him enjoy a glorious summer, in which he reached the Wimbledon final, won Olympic gold and claimed his first Grand Slam title at the US Open, the problem never went away completely.
"Obviously the injections can help a bit with pain and they can take some of the inflammation away, but they didn't make me feel 100 per cent – and I want to feel 100 per cent,' Murray said.
Having felt some discomfort in his back in Madrid a fortnight ago, he said after his retirement in Rome that it was unlikely that he would play in Paris. He had one scan at the end of last week and another today before seeking further medical advice.
Murray has always been reluctant to go into details about the injury but says it is exacerbated by playing on clay, which has always been his most difficult surface. Because of the need to generate pace on clay, the extra rotation of the body aggravates the problem.
"I think the shots that hurt get exaggerated more on clay," Murray said. "Quicker courts help. The lower bounces, a bit more pace off the surface, that helps. There are a few shots that hurt.'
Pulling out of the French Open, which starts on Sunday, is a major setback for Murray in his quest to become world No 1. Despite his mediocre results in recent weeks, he had actually closed on Novak Djokovic over the last fortnight, thanks to the Serb's own indifferent form. Now Murray is likely to see Roger Federer leapfrog him again and reclaim the No 2 position.
Murray has rarely had the best of luck at the French Open. He struggled with his back during a first-round loss to Gaël Monfils in 2006, injured his ankle against Michael Berrer two years ago and suffered back spasms against Jarkko Nieminen last year.
His withdrawal ends a run of 22 consecutive appearances by the Scot at Grand Slam tournaments. The last one Murray missed was Wimbledon in 2007 after he suffered a wrist injury in May at a clay-court tournament in Hamburg.
In pulling out of Roland Garros, Murray will be hoping that he is fully fit to play at the All England Club next month. Wimbledon, where he reached the final last year and has made the semi-finals or better on his last four visits, offers the Scot a more realistic chance of success than the French Open, where his best performance was a run to the last four two years ago.