CINCINNATI (Ohio) • It's been one step forward, two steps back for Andy Murray since undergoing hip surgery in January in a bid to resolve the long-standing ailment.
The Scot's comeback hit another roadblock on Monday after he was beaten 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 by French 16th seed Lucas Pouille in the first round of the Cincinnati Open to hamper his preparations for the US Open, which starts on Aug 27.
The 31-year-old has had a frustrating time since returning to the ATP circuit in June. He had hoped to build on the momentum that had carried him into the quarter-finals of the Washington Open earlier this month before he pulled out of the tournament citing fatigue.
But it was 17th-ranked Pouille, who proved to be the more resourceful as he claimed his first win in five meetings.
Former world No. 1 Murray, whose ranking plummeted into the 800s last month but has now risen to 375th, has fallen at the first hurdle in two of the four tournaments he has contested this year.
"I only lost four more points in the match than him," said Murray, who won 82 points to Pouille's 86.
"It was tight. He's a top-20 player. If I can improve by 10, 15 per cent, you turn a lot of those matches around."
His 24-year-old opponent was chuffed with the manner in which he fought back despite dropping the second set.
"I'm very happy, especially with the way I fought until the end," he said. "I tried to do my best in the third set and then until the end, I played very aggressive and I'm very pleased with that."
World No. 2 and top seed Roger Federer will also be using the Cincinnati event to test his form ahead of the last Grand Slam of the season as he begins his delayed summer hard-court season.
The 20-time Major winner opted to give the Toronto Masters a miss last week to pace himself with Flushing Meadows in mind.
"I've trained hard, I'm anxious. I chose to skip Toronto for the health of my body," the seven-time Cincinnati champion, who will face German Peter Gojowczyk in the second round today, said. "I don't want to be hurt, there is too much to play."
The Swiss, however, admitted that sitting out any competition was still difficult for him.
"Watching from afar is tough, but that's part of growing older. I wish I could play everything, but it's not possible," the 37-year-old added.
Federer's last hard-court match was in March, when he lost in the second round of the Miami Open.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
ATP CINCINNATI MASTERS
StarHub Ch201, 7am & 11pm