Britain's chances of progressing beyond the first round of the Davis Cup's elite World Group were dealt a hammer blow yesterday when Andy Murray pulled out of next week's tie against Argentina in Buenos Aires. The British No 1 has a knee injury and has been advised not to risk aggravating it.
John Lloyd's team were already facing a huge challenge against opponents who have been virtually unbeatable on their home clay courts. Murray's withdrawal leaves Alex Bogdanovic, the world No 187, as Britain's highest-ranked singles player, while Argentina have a squad of four men all in the world's top 60.
Murray is concerned about how his knee might react to the change of playing surface. Having played on outdoor hard courts this month, he would have switched to clay before playing on indoor hard courts next month in Marseilles and Rotterdam. His schedule then takes him back to outdoor hard courts in Dubai, Indian Wells and Miami.
The decision to withdraw was taken after Murray had a scan on his right knee. "Andy's workload in the off-season was incredibly high and put a lot of stress on the right knee," said his fitness trainer, Jez Green. "This is causing him some problems on certain movements. Changing surfaces three times in such a short time span would be a great risk to further injury."
Murray, whose 2007 campaign was disrupted by a serious wrist injury, said: "I'm very disappointed not to be joining my team-mates in Buenos Aires because I love playing for my country. Because I didn't play a full year last year the next two months are very important if I am to maintain my chances of challenging the top players."
Murray had been due to join the British squad at their training camp at Vina del Mar in Chile.
Lloyd said: "We're all hugely disappointed that Andy won't be joining us, but these things happen. Next week's tie will be a massive challenge now that we are without our No 1 player, but we will give it everything."
Murray is replaced by Ross Hutchins, a doubles specialist. Rated No 91 in the world doubles rankings, Hutchins was due to play his first match yesterday at the Vina del Mar clay-court tournament alongside Argentina's Juan Pablo Brzezicki.
Hutchins looks certain to partner Jamie Murray, who is playing in Vina del Mar with Ecuador's Nicolas Lapentti. The British pair could not play together in Chile because their ranking was not high enough. In the first round Murray and Lapentti beat the No 2 seeds, Martin Garcia and Pablo Cuevas.
Bogdanovic and Jamie Baker, the world No 239, will fill the singles places against Argentina. Baker won one qualifying match in the Vina del Mar singles before losing to Horacio Zeballos. Bogdanovic did not enter.
The size of Britain's task is emphasised by the Argentines' rankings. Their squad comprises David Nalbandian (No 10), Juan Monaco (21), Agustin Calleri (41) and Jose Acasuso (58). Argentina have won their last 10 Davis Cup ties on home soil, nine of them 5-0.