Andy Murray’s reign as world No1 shifted from uncertain to worrying on Saturday when injury forced him out of the Miami Open, which he has won twice before and which starts on Monday.
Nor is there any assurance that the 29-year-old Scot, whose form has dipped and swooped since his quarter-final exit at the Australian Open, will be ready for Great Britain’s Davis Cup quarter-final against France in Rouen, which begins on 7 April.
“Sadly, due to a right elbow injury, I won’t be playing in Miami,” Murray said in a statement that caught even his own team by surprise. “Apologies to the fans; it’s one of my favourite tournaments [he won there in 2009 and 2013 and has had a summer residence nearby for several years]. The focus is now on getting ready for the clay season.”
It a minor consolation to Murray perhaps that Novak Djokovic, the rival he displaced at the top of the rankings after an heroic run in the closing months of last season, has returned to his home in Monaco ahead of the Florida tournament. The likelihood of his returning in time to compete in Miami is remote.
Both played below par in Indian Wells, Murray going out in the second round to the world No129, Vasek Pospisil, whose threat was disguised by an extended absence through injury, and Djokovic losing to a lively Nick Kyrgios two days ago.
They will now prepare for the Monte Carlo tournament next month, which begins the European clay-court run-up to the French Open. Paradoxically Murray’s lead over Djokovic in the rankings will grow past 4,000 points through their absence from the Miami tournament, as the Serb was defending winning points from last year.
However, the news that the two highest ranked players in the game are suffering poor form and struggling with their fitness will encourage the gathering battalions of young contenders coming through, not to mention the resurgent old-stagers, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The 35-year-old Swiss has been the more dominant and looked awesome beating the Spaniard in Indian Wells last week.
He was given a free pass into the semi-finals against the fast-improving American Jack Sock when Kyrgios withdrew with a stomach bug.
The rising American, Taylor Fritz, will replace Murray in the Miami draw but that is of minor significance in the wider scheme of things. What had looked like a serene reign opening up for Murray is now one of troubled doubt and hopes that he would return to defend his Wimbledon title while still the top-ranked player in the game might have to be reassessed.