Alan Hubbard

The tsunami of Murray-mania that has engulfed us since it became known that Sir Andy is on the brink of enforced early retirement because of a serious recurrent hip injury, among other physical vicissitudes, ominously carries an underlying message for all who play games at the highest level.

Sports figures, by and large, are well paid for their endeavours but many are paying a high price once the final whistle has blown and the applause has died away.

Injuries like those incurred by tennis star Murray are becoming more commonplace as the rewards get richer, competition intensifies and training becomes even more rigorous.

Murray's sad situation is just the tip of a very large iceberg.

Legions of ex-professional footballers are now walking - or rather hobbling - around waiting for knee or hip operations. 

Even worse, they are suffering from dementia. The effects of heading the ball, as in the much-publicised case of the late forward Jeff Astle, have seen at least three of the surviving winning England World Cup squad of 1966 diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Incipient and crippling arthritis is not now the greatest enemy facing many whose playing days are over.

From boxing to basketball, rugby to running, the strain on the bones and the body - and often the mind (see boxer Frank Bruno) - can be critical and lead to severe incapacity in life. Some coaches and physios may demur, but it is an undeniable fact.

Wear and tear on the limbs and heart is the risk factor in any high-pressure sport. Ask any responsible medico.

The effect of concussion among rugby players is well documented and researched as it is in boxing. But I have to say that these days I see more rugby types walking around with cauliflower ears and bent noses than boxers.

Sir Andy Murray is facing early retirement due to a hip injury ©Getty Images
Sir Andy Murray is facing early retirement due to a hip injury ©Getty Images

Okay, at a purely recreational level, sport, played occasionally, can have immense benefits on health and well-being.

But when it leads to the day in, day out rigours of intense professional competition the prospective dangers are inherent.

Who is to say that within a few years of his retirement Murray, like hundreds of other ex-pro sports personalities, will not need the assistance of at least a walking stick? For many it is a price they are happy to pay for those days of glory and athletic and financial fulfillment.

Murray's predicament has highlighted this sombre situation, as well as bringing a wave of lengthy eulogies and hand-wringing laments.

The 31-year-old has said he will retire this year because the pain from his hip was "too much".

He fought back brilliantly against Roberto Bautista Agut in the Australian Open first round yesterday but lost in five sets in what could be his final match.

"Surgery is my only option if I want to play beyond just Wimbledon," Murray told BBC Radio 5 live.

"However, there is a strong possibility I won't come back and play after an operation. I want to play tennis, but not with the hip I have right now."

Murray has suggested the Australian Open would be his valedictory tournament, although he had originally targeted Wimbledon for his farewell.

The three-time Grand Slam winner and double Wimbledon champion added tearfully: "If I want to play there one last time then I'd have the next four or five months off then have an operation and stop.

"If I have surgery after Wimbledon then there's no chance I'd try to come back again because that'd be another year out of the game. It'll be too tough to come back.

"If I went down the route of having surgery now then there's a good chance I wouldn't be able to play again, but my quality of life would be better."

And that quality of life, Murray says, is key after he admitted he struggles to even walk his dogs in his current condition.

"Just now, going to walk my dogs, playing football with my friends, is the worst thing I can think of doing," he said. 

"I hate it because it's so sore and it's uncomfortable. Yeah, waiting another five or six months to do something like that is just another, you know, period of where I'm really uncomfortable."

Guy Forget has spoken of his own problems with injury ©Getty Images
Guy Forget has spoken of his own problems with injury ©Getty Images

Many of his sporting contemporaries will sympathise. In an interview to L'Equipe, the former world number four Guy Forget, the current French Open tournament director, said he understands Murray's dilemma.

"What happened to Andy Murray is exactly what happened to me when I was a player," he said.

"I was a world number 11 but I had a lot of knee pain. I could not deal with it anymore, I decided to undergo surgery. 

"A year after, the doctor told me 'either you re-start, but you will play on just one leg, either you stop now and it's ended. You will never have your knee at 100 per cent back'. 

"I could not practice for more than an hour-and-a-half a day and I was taking painkillers every day. 

"After a while it was ridiculous, I decided to stop. I imagine Murray has a chronic injury and that he cannot go on anymore.

"For a guy like him to do such a thing, it's because the medicine cannot do anything for him anymore. 

"His hip may get worse. Others experienced something similar - Thierry Tulasne, Gustavo Kuerten, Eddie Dibbs, Jimmy Connors, etc. Everybody has hip prosthesis today, which shows once again that the sport is very severe."

Indeed it is. Which is why once the PC brigade get around to it we could see, hanging in dressing rooms, the sort of warning emblazoned on cigarette packs: Sport can damage your health!