Shattered dreams? Murray, Djokovic among stars suffering from injuries ahead of Aussie Open
It's nothing less than a New Year's nightmare. Instead of a replenished and reinvigorated field of eager stars chafing to challenge for the major titles, tennis might be on the verge of losing some of its biggest names before the first major of the season even begins.
Last year, injuries that prematurely ended the campaigns of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori played a role in the remarkable resurgence of veterans Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. The latter two finished 2017 ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively. Meanwhile, the four sidelined stars were expected to return with a vengeance in 2018, jump-starting a six-way battle for supremacy.
It isn't working out that way. And it quickly went from bad to worse Tuesday as Andy Murray revealed his chronic hip injury is career-threatening and his Aussie Open participation in serious doubt.
The game appears to be in the throes of a perfect storm created by a combination of factors. Murray and Djokovic, both 30, are the youngest of the five aforementioned Grand Slam champs. Proceed to the technology that has created rackets and strings that enable endless rallies -- and marathon matches. Add the punishment that joints and muscles take from the widespread reliance on heavy balls and slow hard courts.
Murray's is truly a cautionary tale for the times. He mounted a spectacular, furious drive to topple Djokovic and finish 2016 as the No. 1 player. It's impossible to prove, but that epic achievement might end up costing him the rest of his career, for he hasn't been the same since.
"[Jimmy] Connors and I hit and for 15 minutes at Indian Wells last year and not one ball went out," former pro Spencer Segura recently told ESPN.com. Segura's late father, Pancho, was the renowned coach who developed Connors' game. Segura added, "You could hit the ball as hard as you wanted and not get it through the court. Only Federer plays differently."
That's a common complaint these days. As ESPN analyst Cliff Drysdale said of the slowing of the game in recent years, "No matter which way you look at it, there are going to be more injuries. The players are subjecting themselves to much more serious tensions and pressures on the body than in the past."
Djokovic, who left the tour with bad right elbow last July (he was hoping to avoid surgery), pulled out of the Abu Dhabi exhibition last week, admitting that his elbow still hurt. Wawrinka, who had left knee surgery midway through his truncated 2017, also pulled out of that event, and might not be ready for the first major of the year.
Nadal withdrew from this week's Brisbane tournament because of continuing problems with a knee. He hasn't played since the soreness caused him to withdraw from the ATP World Tour Finals last November after he played just one match. Will the top seed and defending Australian Open runner-up even be able to play in the first major of the year?
The net result: The only preparation any of these men will have for the Australian Open -- and even this isn't certain -- will be a flimsy, one-night "Tie Break Tens" exhibition in Melbourne just a week before the Australian Open starts on Jan. 15.
The worst news dropped Tuesday when Murray posted a lengthy, poignant message on Instagram -- accompanied by a picture of himself as an adorable young boy -- revealing his plight.....
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