Rome: Andy Murray dropped a bombshell at the Rome Masters on his 26th birthday on Wednesday, with the Scot confessing that a long-term back injury could keep him from playing the French Open.
"I'd be very surprised if I was playing in Paris," a subdued Murray said after quitting a second-round start at the Foro Italico, handing a 6-3, 6-7 (5/7) win to Spain's Marcel Gronollers.
Murray said that pain in his lower left back, which has bothered him since late 2011, has been flaring recently, bringing on the Rome pullout.
"I felt pain today, the same as in Madrid. I took a few days off after Madrid. I hit yesterday and played some points. But I was still sore today."
Murray said the back problem is the same one which required him to take a pain-killing injection last spring in order to play Roland Garros in 2012 where he reached the quarter-finals.
"We will have to wait and see on Paris. I'll try to make a decision after the next five days or so. I need some days off for it to hopefully settle down," added the world number two.
Murray, the US Open and Olympic champion, said he was loathe to take another injection since the one in 2012 still did not leave him feeling 100 per cent.
Having lost the first set to Granollers 6-3, he fought back from 4-1 down in the second set to win a tie-break.
But after levelling the match on his second set point, he promptly went to the net to shake hands.
Murray has not quit a match since May, 2007, in Hamburg when he suffered a wrist injury which took three months to heal.
Murray, ranked world number two behind Novak Djokovic, had been seen by the trainer for on-court hip and back treatment after the third game of the second set.
The defeat marked the second straight year in Rome that Murray, a 2011 semi-finalist, has gone out early, following a third-round exit a year ago.
He came to the court with a 2-0 margin over Granollers but never looked to be on his game.
Murray, who has never clinched a claycourt title, has won just three matches on clay this season, alongside as many defeats.
Murray was joined on the sidelines on a cloudy day at the Foro Italico by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, with Polish underdog Jerzy Janowicz ripping off his shirt in celebration seconds after clinching a 6-4, 7-6 (7/5) win over the eighth seed.
Ukranian Alexandr Dolgopolov got a free trip into the third round when Madrid Masters finalist Stanislas Wawrinka quit before their meeting with a thigh injury which also bothered him last week.
In women's play, second seed Maria Sharapova, winner of the last two editions, started with a 6-2, 6-2 defeat of Spain's Garbine Muguruza.
Former Roland Garros winner, and fifth seed, Li Na won a battle with Chinese countrywoman Zheng Jie 6-3, 6-1 while Australian ninth seed Samantha Stosur, the 2010 beaten finalist in Paris, beat China's Peng Shuai 7-6 (7/5), 6-0.
Russian 12th seed Maria Kirilenko beat Varvara Lepchenko of the United States 6-3, 6-1. The 13th-seeded Roberta Vinci kept her home public happy as she beat compatriot Natassja Burnett 6-1, 6-4.
Slovak 14th seed Dominika Cibulkova put out US qualifier Melanie Oudin 5-7, 6-1, 6-3.