Murray blow highlights need for ATP leadership
Andy Murray's withdrawal from the ATP World Tour Finals in London was a hugely disappointing end to his best ever season.
He didn't want to let anyone down - even mentioning his back-up team as well as supporters and event organisers - but it was a sensible decision and the only viable one from the moment he aired his doubts during Monday's post-match press conference at the O2 Arena.
In the final tournament of the year, the risk of aggravating his groin strain - sustained in practice last Monday - was too great. Had the strain become a tear, his off-season training, an unseen yet essential part of his year, would have been wrecked.
The first major of the year, the Australian Open in Melbourne, comes in the third week of January and he can't jeopardise his chances by being undercooked in any way.
Murray's early departure from the Tour Finals highlighted the strains on modern players. Photo: Getty
Having said that, how he managed to run the world number five David Ferrer so close with a groin strain is something of a medical mystery. It was a decent effort to even give it a go.
And so, yet again, we return to the subject of too much tennis and the punishing demands on the leading stars who, right now, are selling the sport to the world like never before.
"Maybe I should have missed Basle, missed Paris," Murray pondered remorsefully in a quiet room here at the O2. "Maybe that's my mistake for not looking further ahead."
He observed Djokovic and Federer missing the autumn Asian swing, and Nadal missing the European indoor events before London, and understandably asked himself whether he should have done something similar.
But he wants to play, he wants to honour commitments. Players have a certain quota of mandatory tournaments, to help gain sponsors and TV contracts, yet current evidence suggests it is almost impossible for the top players to do everything and stay fully fit for 11 months.
The ATP, the governing body of men's tennis, is facing a tricky few months, with a leadership vacuum and this issue of scheduling front and centre.
It needs to think about the placing of tournaments, the number of mandatory events and the periods of the year when strategic breaks can be taken by the top guys without the pressure of letting down big tournaments.
This can only achieved with the decisive, visionary leadership of a new chief executive. Current CEO Adam Helfant has days rather than months remaining on his contract and the seemingly endless search for a replacement drags on.
It's important they get the appointment right, and the board of directors has been meeting every day this week here in London, but a new boss is urgently required to make a measured, sensible judgement, hard if necessary, about the way forward for the sport.
Maybe one of those directors, Justin Gimelstob, who moonlights as a TV personality, will find a suitable candidate as he cruises the venue with his camera crew. One presumes that's what he's doing out on Entertainment Avenue?
Meanwhile on the tennis court, without much of a care for injuries, Murray, Gimelstob or calendars, a raucous capacity crowd at the O2 enjoyed Roger Federer's extraordinary thrashing of Rafa Nadal.
What a performance - 28 winners in Swiss precision, 60 minutes exactly.
It's hard to say this was Federer at his best but it was more than enough to check the view of anyone who thinks the 16-time Grand Slam winner is on the decline. It was a quite brilliant reminder of his exceptional, history-making talent.
On this evidence, he has at least one more major left in him and, while he's at it, if he wants to apply for the post of ATP chief executive, I'm sure he'd get an interview.
Player-manager? I'm not sure he needs the hassle...