Andy Murray’s tennis career looks to be coming to an end as he struggles to deal with a hip problem that has blighted him for years.
The former world number one announced on Friday morning that the 2019 Australian Open may be his last tournament, but he would like to play on till Wimbledon if possible.
The ongoing injury kept him out of three of the four Grand Slam tournaments in 2018 and has seen Murray fail to win a tournament since March 2017 at the Dubai Tennis Championship.
The details of the hip injury that has brought an untimely end to Murray’s career are a little hazy, but here is what we know.
Murray’s injury first became apparent when he pulled out of an exhibition match ahead of Wimbledon in June 2017. However, he explained the following month that it was nothing new, saying: ‘It is something I have been dealing with since I was 22 or 23 years old, off and on.’
The Scot fell at the quarter-final stage of Wimbledon in 2017 and was forced to pull out of the US Open that year.
On 2 January 2018 Murray pulled out of the Brisbane Invitational and posted the following statement on Instagram:
‘I’ve obviously been going through a really difficult period with my hip for a long time and have sought council from a number of hip specialists.
‘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 get back on the court competing.
‘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.’
Just six days later Murray had an operation on his hip, saying: ‘The surgeon was very happy about how it went. He felt that my hip will be feeling better than it did a year ago.’
The 31-year-old has played on-and-off since then, not appearing at Wimbledon, but playing at the US Open, losing in the second round.
The specific issue with Murray’s hip is not 100% clear, but Paul Jairaj, an arthroscopic surgeon at London Bridge Hospital, told ESPN in January last year what the most likely diagnosis was.
‘If you were to ask me what is going on with Murray, I’d say he’s most probably got a labral tear and articular cartilage damage,’ said Jairaj.
‘Why? Because 90 percent of the time that is the condition that stops athletes from competing. Could there be anything else, six months down the line? Unlikely.
‘This impingement usually occurs due to extra bone that is just below the ball [cam], or less commonly extra bone that forms around the socket (pincer) as well a lack of pelvic control which may come on after a period of time due to fatigue.’
This is a form of femoroacetabular impingement (FAI), which orthopaedic surgeon Marc Safran told The Daily Telegraph was also the most likely cause of the problems.
Hip issues such as FAI have caused serious problems for players such as Gustavo Kuerten, Lleyton Hewitt and Magnus Norman in the past.
Dr. John O’Donnell, a hip arthroscopy who performed Murray’s surgery in January 2018 explained that the problem could not be entirely fixed, even with the operation.
‘It had reached a point where he couldn’t play,’ said O’Donnell. ‘It wasn’t really at a stage where we could attempt to make his hip normal, it was just to try and make it as much better as we could. He’s certainly improved but he still has ongoing problems with it.
‘I think he’s been walking a tightrope for some time. It’s just his intense desire to do well that’s kept him going as well as he has.’
Murray explained at the press conference on Friday: ‘I have an option to have another operation, which is little more severe than what I’ve had before but would give me a better quality of life.
‘Some athletes have had that and come back to competing but there’s no guarantees of that. The reason to have it is not to return.
‘I’m realistic in knowing that’s not an easy thing to come back to play professional sport to a high level. It has been done, [doubles player] Bob Bryan had this operation post-Wimbledon last year. I’ve had lots of communication with him about it.
‘(The previous operation) didn’t help with the pain at all. The walking and certain things on the court I can’t do properly even now, but it’s the pain that’s the driving issues. Having the limitations and also the pain is not allowing me to enjoy competing or training.’
Bryan had an operation on his hip in August 2018 that has kept him out of action since then, but his brother Mike told Jane Voigt of Down the Tee, ‘It looks like it will get back to one-hundred percent; so that’s good news.’