Andy Murray became the latest high profile casualty of the ATP season when he confirmed the hip injury that has blighted his season will rule him out of the year’s final major on Saturday in New York.
In so many ways it seemed inevitable.
The ATP Tour has always been an arduous slog. Late November and December are the time to draw breath but so many of the players, notably Murray, add in a demanding training block to be ready for the demand of a new season.
Players are forever playing with bumps and bruises, niggles and strains, Murray himself has admitted as much. However over the last couple of years it seems like the casualty list is beginning to reach its breaking point. Injuries are becoming more concerning and players are buckling under the daily pressures, culminating with a long absentee list at FLushing Meadows this week.
Prior to Murray’s withdrawal we had already received the news that Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic were to miss the Flushing Meadows showpiece, the first three have also confirmed their absence for the rest of the season, and there are doubts about when Murray will reappear next.
So what to do?
Ironically those two totems of the game have felt the benefit of extended breaks to return refreshed and as major champions again this season – it’s a route Murray would do well to at least consider.
Playing hindered, tournament victories look beyond him and the Scot alluded to that in his emotional New York press conference.
Djokovic has already ruled himself for the remainder of the year, finally admitted defeat in his battle with a problematic elbow injury having already admitted he has struggled for motivation since winning the French Open last year.
In truth Murray has very little to gain over the second half of the season. Having won tournament after tournament between June and November last year he has a mountain of points to defend so a drop in the rankings is inevitable whether he plays or doesn’t.
He has already lost his No 1 ranking and would need to match that fairytale run of success last year to even hope to reclaim it.
Murray is at his best when fit and moving well, so evident as he claimed Grand Slam title number three, Olympic gold number two, the world no 1 ranking and a first ever World Tour Finals success last year.
This year Murray has looked weary for most of the season, has claimed just one title, back in March and reached just one other final [in Doha], giving him his lowest total since 2006.
His Grand Slam results have included a fourth round defeat to Mischa Zverev in Melbourne, a semi-final defeat to Stan Wawrinka in Paris and the painful five set defeat to Sam Querrey in the Wimbledon quarter-final.
Murray’s admission that he did not feel he could compete was telling and might be the clue that a break of some description is on the cards.
He has missed majors before but this one feels particularly pivotal. At 30 he is entering the final couple of years of his career so perhaps a sabbatical would re-energise the fight to push on for a fourth Grand Slam title.
Murray has admitted on multiple occasions that his family is more important to him that any tennis match he will ever face. He already has one daughter and child number two is on the way – there is no doubt Murray would relish the time spent with his young family.
And some time away from the spotlight and perhaps one line from his emoitional press conference was telling.
The top players have increasingly look to decrease their schedule and focus on the majors. Injury forced Federer and Nadal to miss much of the second half of last season, and they have reaped the benefits through the first part of the season, claiming Grand Slam and Masters titles throughout the year.
Federer went one further this year and took the entire clay season off and returned to win in Halle and at Wimbledon but even he has been troubled by a niggling back problem
Fittingly with the relentless nature of the schedule having taken it’s toll on many, we roll straight into a huge fortnight where there is a chance for new stars to emerge in the final major of the year which gets underway in New York on Monday.
There is an element of the unknown about the ATP at the moment. A new generation starting to make their mark led by the brilliant Alexander Zverev.
For years we have headed into majors expecting one of the big four [five if you include Wawrinka] to claim the title. But with absences and doubts around the top names, a new breed could emerge to take up the mantle.
They will at least hope to have the energy that looks to have been drained from Murray and Djokovic this year and hindered Federer and Nadal for a couple of years before their re-emergence.
Who is to say we won’t being saying the same about Murray this time next year?
Sky Sports Tennis will have all the action from the US Open covered via our website www.skysports.com/tennis with our live blogs and updates throughout the fortnight as the Grand Slam year reaches its climax.
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We will also have coverage of the World Tour Finals in November with every match live on Sky Sports.