Andy Murray’s losing run continued with defeat by Italian qualifier Andrea Vavassori in the opening round of the Madrid Open.
The frustrated Scot’s 6-2 7-6 (7) loss to a player ranked 164 made it four consecutive defeats, equalling the worst run of his professional career.
Murray was so disillusioned by his performance against Alex De Minaur in Monte Carlo two weeks ago that he indicated he might sit out the rest of the clay season.
He decided against that but this was another demoralising result, with the only positive being how Murray found a way into the match in the second set.
He lost the first four games and went an early break down in the second set against 27-year-old qualifier Vavassori, who is at his highest career ranking.
The Italian was certainly playing well but Murray was making too many unforced errors and was unable to make any headway on his opponent’s serve.
He changed that in the eighth game, breaking Vavassori for the first time, and he took advantage of nerves from his opponent to save four match points in the tie-break only to twice net straightforward volleys.
It is the first time since 2019, when his hip problems were at their worst, that Murray has lost four matches in a row and, having reached the third round in the Spanish capital last year, he is set to drop back out of the top 60.
Given one of the main objectives for the 35-year-old playing on clay was to improve his ranking in a bid to be seeded for Wimbledon, things are clearly not going the way he would have hoped.
Murray’s defeat followed Emma Raducanu’s withdrawal and another loss for Kyle Edmund.
Edmund is trying to tread the difficult road back to the top of the game after a long spell out with knee problems but has not won a tour-level match this year.
The former British number one’s latest loss was a 6-4 6-1 defeat by former US Open champion Dominic Thiem, who is at last showing more encouraging signs nearly two years after suffering a wrist injury.
Thiem, who will take on world number five Stefanos Tsitsipas in the next round, said on the ATP Tour website: “I have known Kyle since we were juniors. He has been a tough opponent since the young days, so I went in with a lot of respect.
“I had some crucial moments in the first set when I saved the break points and then I released a little bit and it got better and better.
“Once I was a very tough guy to beat on clay and it is not the case right now, but I am feeling that I am getting better and back to shape.”
British number one Cameron Norrie was handed a first-round bye and will start his campaign against Yosuke Watanuki after the Japanese qualifier beat Frenchman Corentin Moutet 6-3 6-3.