ANDY Murray surrendered his Queen’s Club Aegon Championships title to veteran Czech battler Radek Stepanek, losing out 7-6 (12/10) 6-2 in straight sets on Thursday.
Murray’s first week under new coach Amelie Mauresmo ended three matches prematurely, the three-time Queen’s champion unable to make the quarter-finals.
The 27-year-old wasted eight set points in the opening exchange, with 25-year-old Stepanek sweeping home at the first ask, before claiming the second set comprehensively to boot.
Murray was preparing for a new dawn under former Wimbledon and French Open champion Mauresmo, seeking more fun on court.
Instead the reigning Wimbledon champion relinquished his Queen’s crown in severely lacklustre fashion.
Murray’s run to the French Open semi-finals was meant to herald a return to full fitness and form, and the double grand slam winner would have been keen to sustain his winning run.
Stepanek had other ideas, grafting through what moments of pressure Murray could apply - and seizing his moments with comparative ease.
The defeat’s nature more than the loss itself will leave Murray with much work ahead as he gears up to defend his Wimbledon title.
Murray provided the perfect opening, breaking Stepanek at the first time of asking - only to fail to hold his own serve in the following game.
The Scot saved a break point in the eighth game before finally closing out for 4-4 with his fifth game point.
Murray raced into a 6-2 tie-break lead, only for Stepanek to claw back each of those four set points.
The wily Czech saved four more - before clinically claiming the set at his first opportunity.
One of the ball girls had to be led off court in that opening-set tie-break, wilting under an intense sun.
Murray followed suit in relenting, though the heat wave was the least of his troubles as profligacy and inaccuracy took the inevitable toll.
After a 75-minute first set, Stepanek powered home with little further trouble, consigning Murray to an extended period of contemplation and practice-court work ahead of SW19.