Andy Murray suffered only his second opening-round defeat at the Australian Open in 16 years on a sobering evening for the Scot at Melbourne Park.
The five-time finalist was outplayed by 30th seed Tomas Martin Etcheverry in a 6-4 6-2 6-2 loss that was a far cry from his glory days.
His only other defeat in the first round here since 2008 came five years ago in an emotional five-setter against Roberto Bautista Agut after Murray had revealed the extent of his hip problems.
— LTA (@the_LTA) January 15, 2024
A tribute video from his fellow players and global attention accompanied that occasion, with Murray’s career thought to be winding to a close.
Hip surgery has given him a commendable post-script, but it would be no surprise if this much more low-key exit does signal the 36-year-old’s final departure from Melbourne.
Murray admitted at the end of last season that he was not enjoying tennis, and it is increasingly hard to see him finding the sort of performances and results that will bring the joy back.
This was his fourth defeat in a row dating back to October, while he has now lost seven of his last eight matches, the worst run of his career.
Murray hung his head as he trudged disconsolately back to his chair after a final forehand sailed into the net and he looked emotional while waving to all sides of the arena.
The Scot and 24-year-old Etcheverry had met twice last year in two close contests that ended with one victory apiece.
From the start the match was dominated by long baseline rallies. Murray dropped serve in the opening game but broke back immediately and had one chance to move 4-2 ahead only for a lob to fall short.
It proved a costly error as, with Murray trying to extract life from the old balls on serve in the next game, Etcheverry broke again before clinching a 61-minute first set.
Murray’s serve was proving his main Achilles heel, with his first delivery unreliable and the second offering Etcheverry the chance to take control of the rallies.
The Argentinian, a quarter-finalist at the French Open last year, was also making fewer mistakes from the baseline and Murray’s resistance was broken again early in the second set.
Fans had queued around the block to try to get into Kia Arena but the atmosphere was muted as Murray stepped out for the third set, faced with trying to mount another epic comeback.
He did not get as down on himself as he has in recent matches and probed for a way into the contest but it was Etcheverry who broke serve again to lead 3-2, and the end swiftly followed.