THE champion cut down in his prime is one of sport’s enduring and most affecting tropes.

But what makes the strange case of Andy Murray even more agonising is the self-inflicted nature of it all. It is a few years ago now, I think after his Wimbledon win of 2016, that the Scot had first mentioned – almost matter of factly – in an interview with various of us tennis hacks, that knowing what he does now, he wouldn’t have trained the way he did earlier in his career.

This chimed with comments from Jamie Baker, a veteran of Murray’s Miami training blocks, who told me that if his old friend continued to train in the same manner he would be lucky to still be playing at 30. For the record, Baker only lasted till the age of 26.

What he meant by this was that Murray had made it a badge of honour to build him up to be the strongest, fittest, version of himself that he could be. Who could forget him flexing his muscles after sending down a booming first serve, a riposte to those critics earlier in his career who said he had all the shots but perhaps not quite staying the power.

He didn’t just do it for vanity’s sake. This was, you will remember, the years when a nuclear arms race of sorts was taking over the sport, where the likes of Novak Djokovic could play five hours in an Australian Open semi-final one day, then get up the next day and do it all over again in the final.

Murray had to keep pace, or be left behind. Just to get a foothold in this greatest ever era – three Grand Slam wins – he had to go above and beyond. As much as these guys seemed superhuman, they were in fact flesh and blood. The sport is already paying the price for its greatest ever era, and a year after ascending to the summit of the sport, there are now severe question marks as to whether the Scot will ever be the same player again. One back surgery down, he is now six months into a troubling hip injury for which there are no easy answers. What, essentially, the Scot is going through now if payback for exactly how much he was prepared to push himself through earlier in his career.

For those who haven’t been following the news or aren’t on social media, the 30-year-old posted on Instagram yesterday to announce his late withdrawal from the Brisbane International tennis tournament due to his ongoing hip issues. He did far more than that though: he also laid bare that he would now ‘have to reassess his options’. Surgery, a previously rejected idea, was suddenly back on the table. Even if the one option which would alleviate all symptoms for good in order to allow him to walk pain free for the remainder of his career would likely end his career there and then, while a lesser, keyhole option would again facilitate much time off and would not even be guaranteed to fix all the problems. While the Scot will wait until the weekend before clarifying if he will take part in the Australian Open, that Instagram post appeared to be bracing his supporters for the worst.

There is, of course, a danger in over-reacting. Because at times on his rehab it has seemed like the Scot’s army of followers have been living this injury with him. And why not, because they have shared plenty of good times too. While he clearly appeared to be favouring that hip when asked to break into a full stride at the Andy Murray Live event in November, as recently as a one-set, 6-2 defeat to Roberto Bautista Agut in Abu Dhabi a few days back, the 30-year-old was feeling upbeat about his progress. “My hip feels way better than it did at Wimbledon,” he said. “At Wimbledon, I almost made the semi-finals. So if it’s better than that, its positive.”

But at other times such positive, upbeat noises have seemed almost like wishful thinking. When you consider the cottage industry which has been invested in him - the coaches, physios, managers, hitting partners, fans, media - it would be understandable if there has been a reluctance on Murray’s behalf just to countenance the doomsday scenario. Will that hip ever be robust enough to recover for the seven matches which will be required if he is to have designs on capturing more Grand Slams? “When he lost the French Open final [in 2016],” said his fitness trainer Matt Little after his 2016 Wimbledon win, “we were sitting around the table having a discussion that night to say ‘how much harder can we push you?’ ‘How much extra can we get out of you?’. There were some soul-searching moments there actually.”

That perhaps is what Murray meant that day when he said he regretted having trained too hard – perhaps he went all-in, too early. But whatever transpires in the next weeks, months and years, one day the Scot should be free to retire from the sport unburdened by any regrets whatsoever. Clearly a return to competitive tennis still spurs him on. It remains foolhardly to bet against him.