Clay slays Andy Murray and threatens glorious year with a premature end

Davis Cup gamble does not pay off as Croatia tie aggravates back injury resulting in operation

Andy Murray loves the Davis Cup but must be starting to wonder whether the Davis Cup loves him. Four years after aggravating a wrist injury while on national duty that kept him off court for the next six weeks, the 26-year-old Scot is facing up to the prospect of his season being over after hurting his back while playing for Britain in Croatia last weekend. He will have surgery next week and may not return to competition until next year.

While Murray was always determined to take part in the tie in Umag – and was the key factor in the victory that took Britain back into the World Group – he always knew that playing on clay might cause problems.

The world No 3 has suffered with a lower back injury for the last 18 months. Although he has never disclosed the exact nature of the problem, he has revealed that playing on clay is a particular issue. Because of the slow speed of the court, players generally have to rotate their back more while hitting shots on the surface. The problem was particularly acute for Murray during this year's clay-court season. He retired mid-match at the Rome Masters and subsequently withdrew from the French Open.

At one stage there was even a doubt as to whether Murray would recover in time for Wimbledon, but he did so and went on to become the first British man to claim the singles title at the All England Club for 77 years. The back was not an issue on the north American hard-court circuit, although Murray suffered a disappointing quarter-final exit to Stanislas Wawrinka at the US Open.

Eyebrows had been raised when Murray continued to insist that he would keep his pledge to play in the Davis Cup last week, even after the Croatians decided to stage the tie on clay. From his opening singles rubber against Borna Coric it was clear that Murray's back was causing him problems. There was some doubt as to whether he would play in the doubles on the middle day, but he did so and indeed went on to clinch victory for Britain by winning his third rubber of the weekend against Ivan Dodig.

However, on his return home this week Murray again sought medical advice and decided that it was time to try to solve the back issue once and for all. While missing the last two months of the season is a setback – Murray has a good record on the Asia swing and also loves playing in front of a home crowd at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London – the decision to have surgery now has been taken with the longer view in mind.

Although the Scot has not completely ruled out playing at the O2 Arena, his main priority in terms of tournaments will be to recover full fitness in time for the Australian Open in January. His goal before that will be to play a full part in his training block in Miami in December, when he puts in much of the hard work that puts him in good shape for the forthcoming year. The other possible advantage of taking a lengthy break now is that it might help him over the slight dip in form which he suffered in the wake of his Wimbledon triumph.

Murray's absence from competition is likely to put paid to his chances of challenging in the months ahead for Novak Djokovic's world No 1 ranking, a position which Rafael Nadal is poised to take from the Serb before very long. Instead Murray will probably swap places in the ranking list in the coming weeks with the world No 4, David Ferrer.

The World Tour Finals, meanwhile, are likely to suffer if Murray is an absentee. Although many of the tickets for the event have already been sold, Murray can usually be relied upon to shift a couple of thousand more when he plays his round-robin matches at the start of the week.

This would be the first time he has missed the year-ending finale since he first qualified in 2008. The only consolation for tournament organisers could be that his absence would probably ensure the participation of Roger Federer, who is in danger of not qualifying after his poor run over the summer.

Robson's serve lets her down in China defeat

Britain's Laura Robson crashed out of the Guangzhou Open in China yesterday as she surrendered a one-set lead to lose her quarter-final to home favourite Zheng Jie.

The third seed, a beaten finalist in Guangzhou last year, won a one-sided first set against the former world No 15, but her level of serve dropped in the second and third sets as she went on to lose 1-6, 7-6, 6-2.

Robson's compatriot Johanna Konta, a qualifier, also went out, beaten 7-5, 6-3 by Chinese wildcard Zhang Shuai.



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