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Andy Murray: Battling through the pain barrier to become the best player in the world

Leye Aduloju in ATP Tour 11 Jan 2019
  • From bipartite patella to back injuries, Andy Murray overcame several injury problems to become No. 1 in the world
  • Murray says the 2019 Australian Open may be his last tournament
Andy Murray. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Whenever Andy Murray eventually retires from tennis, he will be remembered as one of the finest competitors to ever grace the sport, who emptied his physical and mental reserves to carve out a distinguished career.

Stuck in an era with arguably the three greatest players in the history of the sport, Murray refused to accept mediocrity, eking out three Grand Slam titles and attaining the world No. 1 ranking. All of these have come at a price, as his body appears to have finally succumbed to the wear and tear of the rigours of the spot.

Murray has had his fair share of injuries through the years, but he has battled through the pain barrier to put his name amongst the finest players to ever play the sport.

We look through Murray's major injury setbacks and the impact they have had on his career.

Born with a bipartite patella

Murray was born with a bipartite patella, or split kneecap, a rare condition in which the kneecap forms into two separate bones (instead of one), held together by a fibrous tissue. This causes pain in the knee, especially during physical activities, as the bones move as separate pieces when pressure is applied. Murray was first diagnosed with the problem when he was 16, and subsequently missed the first six months of 2004- the year before he turned professional- and the problem has persisted for pretty much the rest of his career. Speaking after a five-set victory over Richard Gasquet at the 2010 French Open, Murray said:

"My knee hurts and I have just got to manage it. It hurts at different times of the year and there is nothing I can do about it because it was just something I was born with and I am going to have to deal with it for the rest of my career”.  
"It's a lot worse than people think and hurts for the majority of the year and knowing about it makes the problem a lot easier to deal with. It's not like I can do my knee a lot of damage as it's pretty much like having tendinitis."

2005: Back Problem

After spending time away from the sport due to his knee problems, Murray returned in the second half of 2004 to win the US Open Boys' title, but his body acted up again at the start of 2005, as he was forced to miss a big chunk of the first quarter of the year due to a back injury.

"I just need to do a lot of work on my back, which is a bit weak," he said at the end of 2005. "Basically what happened was that when I was around 16, when I was doing most of my growing, I was playing a lot of tennis and the bones hadn't finished developing. The two bones on my lower spine is where the problem is. I just need to get my back strong and then, hopefully, the bones will fuse together, and then it'll be OK."

He would go on to have back surgery almost a decade later.

2005: Ankle injuries and ankle supports

After returning from back injury, Murray turned professional in April 2005, and went on to register his first tour-level victory as Queen's, beating Santiago Ventura. He backed it up with a big win over Taylor Dent in the second round, but was knocked out in the next round by Thomas Johansson. Murray rolled his left ankle during that loss to Johansson, which marked the origin of the ankle support he has worn for virtually his entire career. 

"Basically, I twisted that ankle when I was younger and it didn't heal properly," he says. "It's not that it's weaker. It's just much more flexible than my right one…”
"The support that I use doesn't actually restrict my movement and it doesn't stop my ankle doing anything it should do. It's just like running normally, but it gives me a little bit of extra support on the wide balls if I'm going to twist it. It's very light, so I'm going to play with it on all the time now."

Murray recovered from the ankle injury to take his place at Wimbledon, where be defeated George Bastl and Radek Stepanek before falling to David Nalbandian in the third round, despite being two sets to love up. The Scot believes the ankle injury he suffered at Queen's might have played a part in his loss to Nalbandian at Wimbledon.

"I had to take eight or nine days off after that (ankle injury at Queen’s). I didn't have great preparation for Wimbledon, which might be one of the reasons why I got tired in my match with Nalbandian."

The right ankle joined the left in wearing the support in 2011, after Murray suffered a partial tear to a tendon on the ankle at Roland Garros. The injury occurred during a third round match against Michael Berrer, when he twisted his ankle while sliding to reach a ball. Thankfully, it was not too serious, as the Scot went on to reach the semi-finals in Paris.

2007: Wrist Injury

On his 20th birthday (May 15, 2007), Murray looked to be cruising to a comfortable win over Filipo Volandri in the opening round in Hamburg, but he hurt his wrist while attempting a forehand, and was forced to retire despite being 5-1 up. He wouldn't play again until August, missing Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

2013: Back Injury and Surgery

While there were the inevitable niggles here and there, Murray enjoyed a relatively clean bill of health for the next few years, but his back began to seriously bother him again in 2012, ultimately leading to surgery. Despite the problem, he produced one of his most successful periods between 2012 and 2013, winning his first Grand Slam title at the 2012 US Open, his first Wimbledon title in 2013, and an Olympic Gold medal in London 2012. However, he missed the 2013 French Open, and had surgery in September after a Davis Cup World Group play-off tie in Croatia.

2017: Hip Injury

Murray recovered from back surgery to produce another period of success, rising to No. 1 in the world after a stunning finish to the 2016 season.

But then, his hip began to act up.

After limping through a painful five-set loss to Sam Querrey in the quarter finals at Wimbledon 2017, Murray sat out the rest of the season, hopeful of a return to the tour in January 2018. He tried to come back in January 2018, but his problems persisted, forcing him to undergo hip surgery. While he returned to the tour at Queen's in June, he has never quite been the same player, limping to a 7-5 record in his six tournaments in 2018. His start to 2019 was average, beating James Duckworth in his season opener in Brisbane before falling to Daniil Medvedev in the second round.

The signs were ominous when Murray abruptly ended a practice match against Novak Djokovic while preparing for the Australian Open, when it was clear he could compete against the world No. 1, and hours later, the three-time Grand Slam champion announced that the Australian Open could well be his final tournament.

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Andy Murray: Battling through the pain barrier to become the best player in the world

Andy Murray has had his fair share of injury setbacks, but he played through the pain barrier to become one of the best in the world

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