Andy Murray endured a frustrating return from his injury nightmare as the former world number one was beaten 2-6, 7-6 (7/4), 7-5 by temperamental Australian Nick Kyrgios in the Queen’s Club first round on Tuesday.
Murray gave an encouraging display in his first competitive match in 11 months after finally recovering from the hip problem that required surgery in January.
But the 31-year-old Scot couldn’t secure a fairytale comeback as Kyrgios recovered from first set accusations of ‘tanking’ (losing without trying to win) to knock out the five-time winner of the Wimbledon warm-up event.
Finally back on court for the first time since a Wimbledon quarter-final defeat against Sam Querrey 342 days ago, Murray had low expectations of his return after several aborted comeback attempts.
But the two-time Wimbledon champion, whose ranking has plummeted to 156, will have taken heart from the way he competed, even if there were signs of rust in his shot-making and movement at times.
Kyrgios has been accused of tanking in the past when matches have slipped away with little effort.
And just days after the world number 21 almost beat Roger Federer in Stuttgart, he sabotaged himself with a series of bizarrely loose shots in the first set.
Former British player Andrew Castle, commentating on the match for the BBC, said: “This is a tank from Kyrgios.
“He’s just hitting the ball as hard as he can. That’s fine but don’t expect us not to call it because it is.”
Despite that helpful contribution from his good friend, Murray gradually ran out of steam and Kyrgios found his composure to seal his first win over the Scot at the sixth attempt.
“I was thinking how great it was to see Andy back. I asked if he is was okay at the end of the match and he was,” Kyrgios said.
“He came out really good and I kind of expected that. Regarding my own style, I’ve been entertaining since I was kid.
“I’ve got bad and good things but I’m never going to change.”
Watched by wife Kim and mum Judy, Murray was given a rousing reception as he walked onto the court and responded with a bashful wave to the crowd.
Murray had described his protracted rehabilitation, which featured only two exhibitions outings since Wimbledon last year, as the toughest spell of his career – a painful period of absence he said had reaffirmed his love for the sport.
All the demons from those anxious medical updates and gruelling hours in the gym could finally be exorcised as Murray traded ground-strokes with Kyrgios from the baseline before capping the first point of his return with a cathartic forehand winner.
When Kyrgios tried an optimistic half-volley from the baseline, Murray scampered to the net to meet with a superb winner that proved his desire remains as strong as ever.
Murray’s returns were driving Kyrgios to distraction – not that he needs much excuse to lose focus – and a double fault gave the three-time Grand Slam champion the first break for a 4-2 lead.
With Kyrgios apparently complaining about his fitness and blasting a series of wild second serves, Murray finished the first set with ease.
Even when Kyrgios broke twice in the first game of the second set, the 23-year-old still didn’t seem happy, muttering “Am I wasting my time” while dropping his own serve.
Murray took advantage, recovering from 4-2 down to force a tie-break, but a suddenly focused Kyrgios took the break to force a deciding set.
Inevitably labouring as the match passed two and a half hours, Murray refused to surrender to his aching body and dug deep to save two match points at 4-5.
But fatigue finally got the better of him when a tired double fault handed Kyrgios a win that leaves Murray to concentrate on building his stamina ahead of next month’s Wimbledon.
Djokovic makes a strong start
Troubled Novak Djokovic made a strong start to his Wimbledon preparations with a 6-2, 6-1 demolition of Australian qualifier John Millman.
Djokovic is a lowly 22nd in the ATP rankings after an embarrassing French Open quarter-final defeat against Italian journeyman Marco Cecchinato extended his wretched run in 2018.
The 31-year-old Serb, hampered by an elbow injury last year, has failed to reach the semi-finals in any of his last five Grand Slam appearances.
Djokovic hasn’t earned a major title since competing his career Grand Slam by winning the 2016 French Open.
Dogged by rumours that he no longer has the motivation to return to the top, the 12-time Grand Slam winner decided to start his bid for a fourth Wimbledon crown by accepting a Queen’s wild card.
With Wimbledon starting on July 2, Djokovic was desperate to improve his lacklustre 14-8 record in 2018.
And, in his first appearance at Queen’s since 2010, Djokovic was quickly in the groove on grass as he romped to a first round win in 65 minutes.
Breaks in the fifth and seventh games sealed a one-sided first set.
Barely tested by the world number 63, Djokovic broke twice in the first five games of the second set to see off Millman with ease.
“Look, it’s not the first nor the last match that I lost in my life. I know how to deal with these particular situations,” Djokovic said when asked how he handled the French Open setback.
“I had to take some time off the court, you know, recharge the batteries physically and mentally.
“I went hiking with my wife with no kids for five days, if you really want to know.
“It was a wonderful time after two years with not having a break only with her, so we managed to do that.
“We were very far away from any tennis court, in nature, and it was the best way to clear the mind.”
A sterner test lies in wait for Djokovic in the second round against 2017 ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov.
World number five Dimitrov beat Bosnia’s Damir Dzumhur 6-3, 6-7 (4/7), 6-3 in his opening match as the Bulgarian bids to win Queen’s for the second time
In other first round action on Tuesday, former Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic was leading 6-1, 3-1 when Indian qualifier Yuki Bhambri retired due to a knee injury.
But Canada’s Raonic, who reached the Stuttgart final last weekend, then announced he would be pulling out of the tournament himself after suffering a shoulder injury that could put his Wimbledon participation in doubt.
Reigning Queen’s champion Feliciano Lopez advanced with a 6-3, 6-7 (7/9), 6-3 victory against Belgian fourth seed David Goffin.
Lopez had been due to play Raonic next, but instead the Spaniard will get a walkover into the quarter-finals.
South African third seed Kevin Anderson suffered a surprise 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 7-6 (7/3) defeat by Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer.
French qualifier Julien Benneteau beat former Wimbledon runner-up Tomas Berdych 7-5, 3-6, 6-3.