Murray had his chances against Gabashvili, who was limping between points on an injured left leg. The Scot broke for a 5-4 lead in the third set and served for the victory. But he got broken immediately, sailing a backhand long to make it 5-5.
“Obviously, disappointed not to close it out in the third set when I had a chance to do that,” said Murray, the first top-seeded man to lose his opening match in Washington since Ivan Lendl in 1993. “There’s things I feel I could have done better.”
In the tiebreaker, world No 3 Murray went ahead 4-3. From there, though, he wouldn’t take another point, dropping the last four against Gabashvili, who has never won a tour title.
Gabashvili said he earned the nickname “Tsunami” in the past, because he would “play one match great, but then I could lose to anyone”.
“When you win 7-6 in the third against Andy Murray, it’s something special,” said Gabashvili, who had won only three of 25 previous matches against top-10 opponents and called his victory the “100 per cent” most important of his career.
Murray, who received a first-round bye, was playing his first match of the North American hard-court circuit – and in his first tournament since reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon last month. “It’s obviously a disappointing match to lose,” Murray said, “but it’s not like I got blown off the court.”
Murray was the runner-up in Washington in 2006, and hadn’t been back since. This time, he trailed 4-1 at the start against Gabashvili, got back on serve, but then was broken to end the first set. On Gabashvili’s third set point, he produced a down-the-line backhand winner to cap a 14-stroke exchange, then pounded his chest with his right fist twice while shouting “Come on!”
Although Murray climbed back into the contest in the second set, he was hardly at his best in the third, and his serve did not get him out of trouble in the tie-breaker.
Meanwhile, giant American John Isner hit 17 aces, won 37 of 40 first-serve points and moved into the third round by beating Victor Estrella Burgos of the Dominican Republic 6-3, 7-6 (7/5). The 6ft 10in Isner never faced a break point, powering serves that regularly topped 130 mph.
Time and again the eighth seed would smack a high-bouncing serve that rose out of reach for 5ft 8in Estrella Burgos. “When I’m playing players that are significantly shorter than me, like my opponent out there tonight, it helps,” Isner said. “I hit a few serves that went into the fourth row of the stands.”
In other matches, seventh-seeded Feliciano Lopez ended Lleyton Hewitt’s last appearance at the Citi Open with a 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory. Lopez was set to face Sam Groth, who eliminated ninth-seeded Viktor Troicki 6-3, 6-4. Unseeded American Steve Johnson defeated 11th-seeded Bernard Tomic 6-7 (7/9), 6-4, 6-2.
Fifth seed Kevin Anderson went down 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 to Germany’s Alexander Zverev and tenth seed Ivo Karlovic was beaten 6-4, 7-6 (7/2) by Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov. Fourth seed Richard Gasquet had to come from a set down to see off Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. Grigor Dimitrov, the sixth-seeded Bulgarian, was a 7-6 (7/1), 6-4 winner over Argentine qualifier Guido Pella.
In the women’s draw, Samantha Stosur breezed through her second-round clash with American Irina Falconi, the second seed triumphing 6-1, 7-5. But Alize Cornet, the fifth seed, lost 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) to American wild card Louisa Chirico.