The World No. 2 will focus on getting fit for Wimbledon

The Big Four is still alive and well as a tennis concept, but bringing Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray together in the same Grand Slam tournament is proving increasingly elusive.

Though Nadal has roared back from a left knee injury and a seven-month break and is again the favourite to win another French Open title, Murray announced his withdrawal from the tournament on Tuesday after the latest round of magnetic resonance imaging scans and other medical tests on his ailing lower back.

“It’s a really tough decision and I love playing in Paris, but after seeking medical advice, I am not fit to compete,” Murray said in a statement.

Disk problem

The 26-year-old Scotsman has said his back problems began to surface late in the 2011 season and are linked to a disk problem. He has not offered more detail recently. After retiring during a match last week with Marcel Granollers at the Masters 1000 event in Rome, he has decided not to take further risk and instead focus on trying to win his first Wimbledon title in July.

Murray won his first Grand Slam singles title at last year’s U.S. Open and reached the final of the Australian Open this year. He is ranked No. 2 in the world, but clay remains his weakest surface. He has been past the French Open quarterfinals only once, reaching the semifinals in 2011. Even healthy, he would have been among the second tier of contenders behind Nadal and Djokovic.

Murray’s mother, Judy, who is the British Fed Cup captain, spoke with BBC television last week. “It’s not so easy on the clay,” she said. “There is a lot more twisting and turning. He needs to be cautious, and I’m sure Wimbledon will be his priority.”

Open-stance ground-strokes, a staple of the modern game, put enormous pressure on the trunk because of the rotation required. “Clay is also the one surface where Andy needs to generate more of his own power when in a defensive position, so that may play a part,” Darren Cahill, the coach and ESPN commentator who has sometimes advised Murray, said.

Murray’s withdrawal means that for now, the top four seeded men at Roland Garros will be Djokovic at No. 1, Federer at No. 2, Nadal at No. 3 and David Ferrer at No. 4.

Murray has not missed a Grand Slam tournament since Wimbledon in 2007, and this withdrawal underscores the phenomenal durability of Federer, 31, who also has chronic back issues, but will be playing in his 54th consecutive Grand Slam tournament in Paris.

Big Four separated again

With Nadal missing last year’s U.S. Open and this year’s Australian Open, the Big Four have not played in the same major since Wimbledon last year.

Next chance: Wimbledon if Murray can recover in time. “History would suggest that he bounced back extremely quickly last year once on the grass,” Cahill said. “And given he’s got an extra couple of weeks now, he should be fine for Wimbledon.”

— © New York Times News Service 2013

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