World No 2 Andy Murray admitted on Wednesday that he could miss the French Open after a long-term back injury forced him to quit the Rome Masters.
"I'd be very surprised if I was playing in Paris," a subdued Murray said after retiring from a second-round start at the Foro Italico, handing a 6-3, 6-7 win to Spain's Marcel Granollers.
Murray, who was celebrating his 26th birthday on Wednesday, said that pain in his lower left back, which has bothered him since late 2011, has been flaring recently, bringing on the Rome pull-out.
"I felt pain today, the same as in Madrid. I hit yesterday and played some points. But I was still sore today," added Murray, with the French Open due to start on May 26.
There were no such problems for Madrid Masters champion Rafael Nadal who began laying the groundwork for a dream seventh Rome title, hammering Italian Fabio Fognini 6-1, 6-3. Nadal owns five titles since making his return after seven months out with a knee injury.
The Spaniard, who has now won his 32nd match of the season against two defeats, will next play Ernests Gulbis, a winner over Serb Viktor Troicki 6-1, 6-1. "Tomorrow I play against an opponent who is very dangerous," said Nadal.
"He's having a great season and we had a tough match in Indian Wells this year.
"He's aggressive with a big serve, big shots from the baseline. I have to be playing great if I want to have any chance."
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 No 2.
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.
The Briton has not quit a match since May, 2007, in Hamburg when he suffered a wrist injury which took three months to heal.
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. Murray, who has never clinched a claycourt title, has won just three matches on the surface this season, alongside as many defeats.
"[The back] has not been perfect for a long period, I want it to start feeling good again. Everyone goes into matches with niggles, but this is very frustrating," added Murray. "Some shots hurt more on clay because the movement is so exaggerated. There is not a lot of power on the ball so you have to generate power and pace yourself.
"I don't want to go into details, but I've got a disc problem, it changes week to week. It's been an issue for a while, but I want to make sure it goes away.
"I don't want to be playing with it long-term, it's not enjoyable at all."
Murray was joined on the sidelines 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 win over the eighth seed.
Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov got a free trip into the third round when Madrid 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.
"This is a meaningful tournament for me," Sharapova said. "This is one of the tournaments I've won a couple of times, and I've also been playing here since I was really young."
Victoria Azarenka, the No 3, was equally untroubled by Julia Goerges beating the German 6-2, 6-0.
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, 6-0.
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE