Andy Murray’s return to clay ended in a swift defeat to Alex De Minaur in the first round of the Monte Carlo Masters.
The 35-year-old, who skipped all but one tournament of 2022’s clay court swing, including the French Open, was blown away 6-1 6-3 by the Australian in Monaco.
Questions will now be raised about how long Murray will persist on the surface that he finds most difficult to play on following his hip surgery.
He started the match terribly, losing the first four games, and a third break of serve by De Minaur allowed him to romp to the first set in 35 minutes.
Murray, playing this tournament for the first time since 2017, got himself into a debate with umpire Carlos Bernardes early in the second set when the Briton’s hat fell off during a point but the Brazilian did not stop play.
The pair were discussing the rule over the change of ends and it had a negative impact on Murray, who was broken in the next game amid a number of unforced errors.
That proved decisive as Murray could not find his best game, regularly screaming at his entourage, and De Minaur saw out a comfortable victory.
There was also a defeat for British number one Cameron Norrie, who went down 6-3 6-4 to Argentinian Francisco Cerundolo.
Norrie clawed his way back into the match after a fast start from Cerundolo but did not look settled throughout and made 18 unforced errors compared to only eight winners.
A netted forehand gave Cerundolo the crucial break in the ninth game of the second set as the pressure on the British number one finally told.
Having started the season with a run of 21 wins from 25 matches, Norrie, ranked 13th, now finds himself needing to rediscover his confidence for the rest of the clay-court stretch.
There was better news, though, for Jack Draper, who made a winning return from injury, battling to a 6-3 7-5 win over another Argentinian, Sebastian Baez.
Draper’s serve was under pressure throughout the contest but he saved 11 of the 12 break points he faced while taking three of his own four chances to set up a clash with 10th seed Hubert Hurkacz.