MASON (Ohio) • Andy Murray moved well in his first singles match since January, but not well enough to move on - even to the US Open.
Using a bottomless arsenal of drop shots, Richard Gasquet snapped a five-match losing streak against Murray with a 6-4, 6-4 win in the first round of the Cincinnati Masters on Monday.
The singles match was Murray's first since a painful exit from the Australian Open that had him thinking his career might be over.
The three-time Grand Slam champion underwent a second hip surgery on Jan 28, receiving metal implants to help eliminate the pain that had him hobbling for a long time.
He played doubles in several tournaments, including Wimbledon with Serena Williams and at Washington with brother Jamie, before deciding to try singles at Cincinnati, where he is a two-time champion.
Murray, 32, said: "Physically, my legs were a little bit heavy at the end of the match in comparison to maybe what they normally would be if you played a bunch."
The US Open's wild-card timing led Murray to decide against playing in New York.
"We were hoping to maybe hold a wild card until a little bit closer to the time to see how I feel and get some matches, hopefully, and a bit of practice, but they were announcing the wild cards today and didn't want to wait," he said.
His rust was evident as he double-faulted on his first serve, but he recovered to last 1hr 36min with no apparent health issues.
When he drop-shotted, there were a few times I didn't even run to the ball, didn't react to it, and that's nothing to do with my hip. That's just me not running for a ball...
ANDY MURRAY, on his apparent rust covering the court as a singles player.
"When he drop-shotted, there were a few times I didn't even run to the ball, didn't react to it, and that's nothing to do with my hip," he said. "That's just me not running for a ball, which I did do that better at the end of the match. I reacted and got to a few and won points."
He indicated, though, he would play doubles and mixed doubles at Flushing Meadows in two weeks and left the door open to possibly play before then.
"I may play Winston-Salem potentially," he said of the North Carolina event, which starts on Saturday. "But I'll probably look at just playing doubles and mixed doubles. That's what I will do at the US Open."
While Murray's comeback was cut short, Maria Sharapova can look forward to a tantalising second-round battle with world No. 2 Ashleigh Barty, who defeated the Russian at this year's Australian Open.
World No. 97 Sharapova, who missed nearly six months due to a right shoulder injury in February, overpowered Alison Riske 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) in the first round on Monday.
She struggled at times with her accuracy but unleashed some massive serves and played stout defence at key moments on her return to the tournament after a five-year absence.
The five-time Grand Slam champion prevailed on her fourth match point against Riske to set up the meeting with top seed Barty.
The Australian beat Sharapova in the fourth round of the Australian Open in January.
ASSOCIATED PRESS, REUTERS
ATP CINCINNATI MASTERS
Day 3: StarHub Ch201, 11pm