ABU DHABI (AFP) - Andy Murray made his comeback from a nearly five months injury layoff, losing a one-set match to Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship on Friday (Dec 29).
The former world number one, winner of three Grand Slam titles, lost 6-2 after filling in for Novak Djokovic, who was a late withdrawal on Friday after a recurrence of pain in his right elbow.
The 30-year-old Scot was last seen in action in his loss to Sam Querrey in Wimbledon and then shut down the season after that to recover from a niggling hip injury.
Murray moved gingerly on the court and clearly showed the rust physically, although he never clutched his back or showed any overt signs of still carrying the injury.
Refusing to run down several balls in the opening few games, he was more competitive towards the end, the highlight being a 12 minute 15 second battle to hold his serve at 1-5 down.
However, the damage was already done as he lost his first two service games to go 0-4 down at one stage.
Murray did not speak to the media, but told the court-side commentator: "Obviously I made a slow start and Roberto is one of the best players in the world.
"When you haven't competed for a while, it takes time to get up to that pace. I started to feel a bit better towards the end but I need to keep improving for sure.
"It was nice to be able to play. I was just planning on stopping here for a couple of days on the way to Australia to get some practice in with the guys.
"But obviously it was unfortunate that Novak was not able to play and I was here so I agreed to play a set and obviously I am happy to be able to come out here and play in front of everyone."
South African world No14 Kevin Anderson continued his impressive run of form, dispatching world No5 Dominic Thiem 7-6 (6), 6-4 in one hour and 32 minutes.
The US Open runner-up this year will meet Bautista Agut in the final Saturday after the Spaniard benefited from Djokovic's late withdrawal from the tournament.
The former world No1 Djokovic, winner of 12 Grand Slam titles, was expected to make his comeback after nearly five months of layoff due to an elbow injury, but felt pain in the same spot while practicing and withdrew.
Anderson and Thiem traded one break each in the first set before the powerful service game of the tall South African helped him hold sway over the Austrian.
Winner of all their three previous head-to-head matches on the ATP Tour, Anderson then broke Thiem in the opening game of the second set, and that proved decisive in the end.
In the match to decide the fifth-sixth place, Russia's Andrey Rublev beat Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta 6-4, 6-2.
The highlight of what has traditionally been a men's exhibition tournament will be the comeback match of the former women's No1 Serena Williams on Saturday.
The 36-year-old American, the most successful player in the history of women's tennis with 23 grand slam titles, plays the reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in a match scheduled to be held before the men's final.
Williams was last seen in action winning the Australian Open this January. She then took a sabbatical and to give birth to her first child, Alexis Olympia, in September.