Andy Murray backed by Roger Federer after pulling out of Italian Open

Andy Murray backed by Roger Federer after pulling out of Italian Open

Posted on - May 14 Thursday, 2015

If, as he said a few years ago, the only reading Andy Murray has done since school were a couple of Harry Potter books he will be familiar with the concept of a wizard living among less-blessed mortals known as Muggles.

He made the wholly correct decision to withdraw from the Rome Masters to ensure he is fresh and fit for the French Open in days’ time because gathering exhaustion was the collateral price the Scot has paid for an unprecedented run of success in a short space of time on clay. Yet there will be people in tennis who might think they are being treated as, well, Muggles.

Some readers of the Daily Mail, for instance, have not taken kindly to Murray’s caution. “Lazy Scot,” quipped one. “Naughty Moany McMoanbag!” blogged another.

Roger Federer, however, is not among their number. After his own uncomplicated progress to the quarter-finals of the Rome Masters with a 75-minute, two-set dismissal of the dangerous Kevin Anderson, the Swiss set new standards of diplomacy and understanding. A former leading light of the ATP players’ council – their high-class trade union – Federer retains greybeard status, and has sympathy for Murray.

“He’s pulling out on his terms,” he said. “It’s one of the better pull-outs you can make, after playing 10 matches in a row. Of course it’s a disappointment for the tournament, and for himself as well. Whatever you do you’re going to have a lot of tournaments on the calendar, and sometimes we need to go back-to-back.”

He said it was not indicative of a wider problem that Murray and Serena Williams quit the tournament within an hour of each other, the American complaining of an injured elbow. “We don’t know in their mind and body how they’re exactly feeling, how significant their fatigue or niggling injury is, or if they’ve been playing in pain the past few weeks and months. Who knows? They still put their bodies on the line and that always needs to be respected.

“I wouldn’t say it has nothing to do with Paris, but as a tennis player you can choose when you want to play and when you don’t want to play. That’s just the way it is and the way it has always been. That risk is always there. I can only speak for myself: I’ve only ever done it, I think, twice. I always put my body on the line whenever I can.”

Murray, meanwhile, left Rome disappointed but plainly relieved that he can turn his attention to Roland Garros. “I’m playing the best I have on clay,” he said of the sequence that brought him his first two clay titles in as many weeks, brought to sweet climax with a two-set victory over Rafael Nadal in Madrid last Sunday.

He added: “Physically I’m very happy with my back. Aside from playing well, that’s been the biggest positive for me in terms of how I’ve felt on the court. But I also need to make sure I use these next 10 or 11 days the best that I can because it would be very easy to do too much – but also I don’t want to do too little. I want to try to get enough rest in and then train the best that I can to get ready for Paris.”

If Federer has the gift of taking these minor crises in his stride, they sometimes consume Murray, whose attention to detail is fabled on the circuit.

“Getting up this morning was hard,” he said, revealing he is very much a prisoner of his routine as well as enforced circumstance. “I probably went to bed about 1am. I was trying to get to sleep earlier but, because of the matches last week, I was pretty much going to bed at 1.30am or 2am. I had my alarm set at 9am. I was struggling to get up, but I got up, had breakfast and then did my warm-up and got on the court. I just felt very flat and tired. I didn’t say anything to the team.”

When he did discuss his dilemma with them, his coach Amélie Mauresmo was clear: it made no sense to continue.

“It wasn’t just about today’s match,” he said. “It’s about the rest of the tournament. I definitely could have won my match today [against David Goffin] – that’s possible. But I’m just getting more and more tired and I don’t want to risk hurting myself or getting sick and missing five, six, seven days or whatever it is before the French.”

He will go to Roland Garros, he hopes, buoyed by the standard of his tennis and with confidence in his body. Murray likes his life to be measured and predictable. “One of the reasons I’m in this position right now is because I did not expect that [run of success on clay],” he said. “It’s been a great few weeks for me. I’ve done things that I’ve never done on the tour before. That’s exciting and it shows that I’ve made good progress and that my team is working very well, helping me improve and learn more about this surface and how I need to play.”