|2018 Fever-Tree Championships on the BBC|
|Venue: Queen’s Club, London Dates: 18-24 June|
|Coverage: Watch live on BBC Two, BBC iPlayer, BBC Red Button, Connected TVs, the BBC Sport website and app.|
Andy Murray’s comeback after almost a year out with a hip injury ended in a narrow defeat by Nick Kyrgios in the Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s.
The Briton lost 2-6 7-6 (7-4) 7-5 against the Australian world number 21.
Murray, now ranked 156th in the world, was playing his first competitive match since losing at Wimbledon last year.
The 31-year-old tested Kyrgios, 23, in an encouraging performance, saving two match points before losing in two hours and 39 minutes on court.
Former world number one Murray insisted he was not focusing on winning against Kyrgios, but was solely interested in the way his body would cope with the rigours of playing an ATP tour match.
Yet he looked on course for a victory few gave him hope of achieving after so long out of the game.
True, Kyrgios – a mercurial and unpredictable player – was not fully focused in an erratic first set, eventually switching on mentally to fight back against his good friend.
Neither Kyrgios’ display, nor the result, should take anything away from Murray’s performance.
Although there were periods where Murray looked understandably rusty, all the facets of the three-time Grand Slam champion’s game – accurate serving, shot-making, dogged defence, court coverage and will to win – were seen at times in front of a packed home crowd in London.
Understandably, he faded in the decider – his shot selection letting him down in the final game as a double fault allowed Kyrgios to take his third match point.
“It was great to see him back and see him healthy,” said Kyrgios, who beat Murray for the first time at the sixth attempt.
Murray proves he is fit enough to compete
Murray’s road back to the court has been a long one – 342 days to be precise – and one which he admits left him “very concerned” about his recovery.
Limping heavily at Wimbledon last year, it was remarkable he managed to reach the last eight before losing in five sets against American Sam Querrey – the last time we saw him on a match court before Tuesday.
“I was in a bad place,” he said this week. “I could barely walk.”
Rest and recuperation was tried in a bid to manage the problem before he decided to have surgery in January.
The Scot says he is not free of pain and does not expect his hip to be perfect.
Despite that, he believes he can still be more competitive than he was a year ago – and so it proved against Kyrgios.
He showed few signs of restricted or troubled movement, scampering regularly across the baseline and sprinting forwards to the net.
However, there were worrying signs at the start of the third – Murray holding his lower back and then starting to limp.
Still he dug deep, showing he has not lost any of his fighting spirit, nor any of his will to win, before Kyrgios came through.
What next for Murray?
Wimbledon? That is the big question to which, as yet, we do not have a definitive answer.
Murray, a two-time Wimbledon champion in 2013 and 2016, is hoping to be fit enough to play in the championships which start on 2 July.
But he has been understandably cautious about his expectations.
In the build-up to his return, Murray pointedly said there would be no guarantees about how his body would feel after playing competitively again.
And although he looked in good shape over three sets at Queen’s, he will need to make sure he is ready to compete over five at Wimbledon.
Murray also says he needs to be smart with his scheduling and make sure he is not overplaying.
His final opportunity to play competitively before Wimbledon is likely to be in Eastbourne next week, although he is not yet on the entry list for the ATP 250 tournament.
Talented & unpredictable – Kyrgios entertains
Murray and Kyrgios have become good friends, based on shared humour and a love of football computer games amongst other things, leading to plenty of “instant banter” – in the words of Kyrgios – in the locker room and on social media.
That led the enigmatic Australian to claim before the match he was “the best guy” for Murray to play on his comeback.
Certainly he was in the opening set.
Kyrgios did not look fully engaged and appeared to be playing below full pelt, entertaining the crowd with ‘hotdog’ shots through the legs and mid-air twirls as he waited for high balls.
And then his ferocious serving – just short of 140mph – became more erratic as momentum turned in Murray’s favour.
He made four double faults as Murray broke for 4-2, then produced another – after video technology ruled his first serve was marginally out – on set point.
However, he was more focused in the final two sets and came through to set up a last-16 match against either British number one Kyle Edmund or American Ryan Harrison.
‘Extraordinary performance’ – analysis
Former Great Britain Davis Cup captain John Lloyd on BBC Two: “The expectations are going to rise on Andy Murray after this performance. He still has a bit of work to do, but for a first match back it was remarkable.
“The first set looked like a normal first set. He made a few errors and in the third he played well. It was an extraordinary performance considering he has been out for nearly a year.”
Former British number one Andrew Castle: “Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will have taken note of this performance, and so will the rest of the tour. I suspect most thought that it was over for Andy Murray, but now I am very optimistic for the future. It’s fantastic that he’s back.
“I’m not sure how he’s going to get on in five sets at Wimbledon but I am so glad he’s back out here doing what he loves doing most.”