Britain’s Andy Murray missed out on a first ATP Tour semi-final in two years after losing to American Tommy Paul in the Stockholm Open quarter-finals.
Murray, 34, beat top seed Jannik Sinner on Wednesday but could not find the same level against an inspired Paul.
The Scot lost 6-2 3-6 6-3 as Paul, ranked 52nd, set up a last-four meeting with fellow American Frances Tiafoe.
British number two Dan Evans led Tiafoe in their quarter-final earlier on Thursday before losing 1-6 6-1 6-1.
Evans’ defeat ended the prospect of an all-British semi-final and Murray was unable to continue the nation’s interest in the event.
“I didn’t hit the ball particularly well so I was on the back foot in most of the rallies,” said Murray, whose 2021 season is now over.
“I was just battling, timing was off from the back of the court a little bit, but that’s the first time since February where I played three consecutive days.”
Murray ‘pretty clear’ on how he needs to improve
While Evans will now play for Great Britain in the Davis Cup Finals, Murray says his “tired body needs a break” before starting preparations for the 2022 season.
Murray has been with Johanna Konta’s former coach Esteban Carril in Stockholm, with the Spaniard poised to join his coaching team next season.
“My game will improve, I think, over the off season – I’m pretty clear on the things that I need to work on,” said the former world number one.
“I need to make sure we get a good plan in place that come the beginning of January those improvements have been made.”
After beating Italian world number 10 Sinner, Murray said the “argument is finished” over whether he could again compete with the world’s best players.
The straight-set victory saw the Scot, now ranked 143rd, play some of his best tennis since coming back from career-saving hip surgery in January 2019.
Stringing together a consistent run of victories has been Murray’s problem in recent months, however, and remains the target for the three-time Grand Slam champion after he lost to 24-year-old Paul.
Following his win over Sinner, a bullish Murray insisted deep runs at tournaments were “coming”. That did not come to fruition in the Swedish capital, though.
Murray’s last run to an ATP semi-final came in October 2019, when he went on to win the European Open title just nine months after the resurfacing surgery which left him with a metal hip.
After being outplayed by an athletic and aggressive Paul in the opening set, Murray’s tenacity came to the fore as he fought back to force a decider.
Neither player earned a break point in a tense final set until Murray, scampering across the baseline from side to side, hit into the net and then produced a double fault to leave Paul serving for the match at 5-3.
Murray was disturbed by movement in the crowd before the double fault, expressing his annoyance to the chair umpire and unable to sufficiently refocus to prevent Paul completing victory.
Evans also out as Edmund plans to make comeback
Fourth seed Evans had looked on course to be heading into his third semi-final of the year after taking a one-set lead against Tiafoe.
But the American eighth seed upped his level to end the ATP Tour season for Evans, who won a first title this year.
The 31-year-old had arrived in Stockholm on the back of successive first-round exits at his previous two events and having been overtaken by Indian Wells champion Cameron Norrie as British number one.
But he ends the tour season with the boost of having reached a fourth quarter-final before the Davis Cup Finals later this month.
It was also announced on Thursday that Evans will be facing Andy Murray on the opening day of the Battle of the Brits – Scotland versus England – on 21 December in Aberdeen.
The provisional schedule for the two-day event organised by Murray’s brother Jamie will also feature former British number one Kyle Edmund playing his first matches for more than a year following knee surgery.