Andy Murray fell to a straight-sets defeat in the Sydney Tennis Classic final on Saturday, ending his preparation for the Australian Open with defeat to Aslan Karatsev.
The Scot, playing in his first final since the European Open in Antwerp in October 2019, started tentatively and was broken in the first game of the match as Karatsev raced into an early lead after a couple of solid holds.
Three-times major winner Murray struggled on serve throughout the opening set, landing just 48 per cent of his first serves and committing four double faults.
The second set began much like the first as the 28-year-old Karatsev broke early to seize the advantage, consistently hurting Murray with a barrage of powerful winners from the back of the court.
Murray showed glimpses of his old self in the fifth game that lasted nearly 13 minutes as the Brit battled valiantly to get a break back, but Karatsev weathered the storm and held on, eventually taking the match in one hour 32 minutes to claim his third career title.
After the match, he highlighted the “long road” he has faced to return to these sort of events after battling a hip injury - his voice cracking as he thanked his family back home.
Murray said: “Firstly, I'd like to congratulate Aslan. I know he also arrived late in Australia as he was recovering from Covid-19 so [it’s] even more impressive to come back straight away and play at that level. Good job and all the best for the Aussie Open.
“I'd like to thank my team for all of their help this week. First time back in the finals for three years, it's been a long road to get back here but I couldn't have done it without your help, so thank you.
“I'd also like to thank my family back home, I don't know if you were watching but I miss you all.”
No21 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili awaits in the Australian Open first-round on Tuesday.
Additional reporting by Reuters.