BARCELONA • Andy Murray's chequered start to life as the world's top tennis player continued with a first defeat by Dominic Thiem, the talented ninth-ranked Austrian, in the semi-finals of the Barcelona Open yesterday.
Murray, still feeling his way back on to the Tour after more than a month on the sidelines with an elbow injury, was beaten 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in two hours and 13 minutes.
In a match defined by the ups and downs of an opponent whose searing power frequently overshadowed his consistency, Murray fought back from a subdued start but was ultimately edged out by Thiem in a tense finale.
If it was not the outcome that Murray had hoped for, he can at least reflect on a week of solid progress following an inauspicious start to the clay-court season at last week's Monte Carlo Masters.
As for Thiem, through to the seventh final of his career on the red surface, the first win of his career over a reigning world No. 1 will be cause for encouragement as he seeks to build on last year's run to the French Open semi-finals.
Thiem became the first Austrian since Thomas Muster in 1996 to reach the final of the Barcelona Open.
Murray squeezed past Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a three-hour encounter on Friday and looked flat-footed as Thiem roared through the opening set with three breaks of serve in just over half an hour.
The Scot had to stave off another break point in a marathon opening game to the second set.
But, serving with greater bite and consistency than he had in the opener, when barely half his first serves found the court and he won just 17 per cent of the points behind his second, Murray quickly levelled the contest.
He jumped at the chance to break for 5-3 before serving out to take the match to a decider.
Murray, though, still looks a pale shadow of the player who rose to No. 1 on a spectacular run at the end of last year as he now struggles for form and fitness on his return to the circuit.
Thiem had to battle his way back from a break down in the third set, but constantly put pressure on the Murray serve and broke three times to seal his place in the final.
Thiem will meet nine-time Barcelona Open champion Rafael Nadal, who beat Argentinian Horacio Zeballos 6-3, 6-4 in the other semi-final yesterday.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN
ATP BARCELONA OPEN
Final: StarHub Ch201, 10pm