Andy Murray’s comeback after almost a year out with a hip injury ended in a narrow defeat by Nick Kyrgios in the Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s.
The Briton lost 2-6 7-6 (7-4) 7-5 against the Australian world number 21.
Murray, now ranked 156th in the world, was playing his first competitive match since losing at Wimbledon last year.
The 31-year-old tested Kyrgios, 23, in an encouraging performance, saving two match points before losing in two hours and 39 minutes on court.
Former world number one Murray insisted he was not focusing on winning against Kyrgios, but was solely interested in the way his body would cope with the rigours of playing an ATP tour match.
Yet he looked on course for a victory few gave him hope of achieving after so long out of the game.
True, Kyrgios – a mercurial and unpredictable player – was not fully focused in an erratic first set, eventually switching on mentally to fight back against his good friend.
Neither Kyrgios’ display, nor the result, should take anything away from Murray’s performance.
Although there were periods where Murray looked understandably rusty, all the facets of the three-time Grand Slam champion’s game – accurate serving, shot-making, dogged defence, court coverage and will to win – were seen at times in front of a packed home crowd in London.
Understandably, he faded in the decider – his shot selection letting him down in the final game as a double fault allowed Kyrgios to take his third match point.
“It was great to see him back and see him healthy,” said Kyrgios, who beat Murray for the first time at the sixth attempt and goes on to face British number one Kyle Edmund in the last 16.
Murray proves he is fit enough to compete
Murray’s road back to the court has been a long one – 342 days to be precise – and one which he admits left him “very concerned” about his recovery.
Limping heavily at Wimbledon last year, it was remarkable he managed to reach the last eight before losing in five sets against American Sam Querrey – the last time we saw him on a match court before Tuesday.
“I was in a bad place,” he said this week. “I could barely walk.”
Rest and recuperation was tried in a bid to manage the problem before he decided to have surgery in January.
The Scot says he is not free of pain and does not expect his hip to be perfect.
Despite that, he believes he can still be more competitive than he was a year ago – and so it proved against Kyrgios.
He showed few signs of restricted or troubled movement, scampering regularly across the baseline and sprinting forwards to the net.
However, there were worrying signs at the start of the third – Murray holding his lower back and then starting to limp.
Still he dug deep, showing he has not lost any of his fighting spirit, nor any of his will to win, before Kyrgios came through.