Andy Murray's hopes of building his confidence ahead of Wimbledon with a title came to an end in Nottingham yesterday. Murray suffered a surprise 6-7, 6-4, 1-6 defeat to the Italian Andreas Seppi in the quarter-finals of the Red Letter Days Open.
As the highest-ranked player left in the event, at No 45 in the world, and after straight sets wins in the previous two rounds over Dmitry Tursunov and Max Mirnyi, Murray was expected to ease through. That failed to materialise, though, against a renowned baseliner with a preference for clay and hard courts, and ranked at No 72 in the world.
The first set was a rollercoaster affair, with both players broken on three separate occasions allowing Murray to level at 2-2, 4-4 and 5-5.
That was primarily due to the chilly, windy conditions proving more of a winner, a factor Richard Gasquet had complained about despite a comprehensive 6-3, 6-1 victory for the reigning champion over fellow Frenchman Gilles Simon in the previous quarter-final.
Murray then produced a superb service game to take the lead for the first time in the set at 6-5, only for Seppi to respond to love and so take it to the first set to a tie-break.
After Murray started with a double fault, a virtual mirror image of the set then unfolded as he went on to lead 4-2, only to lose five successive points.
As the match progressed into the second set, the players appeared as if they were beginning to master the wind. Following the topsy-turvy nature of the first set, Murray and Seppi were finding it easier to hold their serve. Murray, in particular, ripped down two aces at the end of his opening service game. That after managing just one ace in the first set.
At 3-3, going with serve, Murray mustered two break points, the first of which he converted with a superb running cross-court forehand. That allowed him to serve for the set, going into it with confidence as he had lost just three of 19 points in his previous four service games.
Seppi managed to take Murray to deuce before the Scot wrapped up a 6-4 win with his second set point.
That should have been the cue for Murray to take control, but after saving three break points on his opening service game in the third set, he was broken in the fourth and sixth games as Seppi eased to victory.
On another court, the reigning champion Gasquet cruised into the semi-finals. Gasquet could reasonably have expected a far tougher encounter than he was ultimately given by his compatriot and close friend Simon, who was trounced in just 68 minutes.
After losing his serve in the opening game, Gasquet then reeled off the next four as he twice broke Simon, who was proving considerably wayward with his shots.
Serving for the set at 5-3, Gasquet found himself facing two break points at 15-40 down, but steadied his nerve to take the opener.
Simon's struggles continued in the second set, with the 21-year-old suffering another break in the third game to hand Gasquet a 2-1 advantage.
After holding serve, Gasquet stretched his lead to 4-1, doing so on his fourth break point after initially letting slip a 0-40 lead.
Simon had conjured a remarkable victory in his second-round tie with Jan Vacek on Wednesday, coming back from a set and 4-0 down. But there was to be no repeat against Gasquet, who at world No 66 is ranked 19 places lower than Simon.
Gasquet held to love for a 5-1 lead, and with Simon a dispirited man, he completed a crushing victory by pushing a volley down the line on his first match point.
Gasquet now meets Robin Soderling in the semi-finals after the Swede beat Janko Tipsarevic 7-6, 6-4.
The reigning Wimbledon doubles champions Stephen Huss and Wesley Moodie suffered a shock defeat at the semi-final stage. For the third successive match the No 2 seeds were taken to a third set, which for this event takes on a different format as it is the first team to 10 points, or a margin of two.
Australian Huss and South African Moodie lost the first set 3-6 to Russian duo Igor Kunitsyn and Tursunov, who was beaten in the first round of the singles by Murray.
Although breaking in the 12th game of the second set to take it 7-5, it was the Russians who then edged the decider, taking another scalp after beating third seeds Jaroslav Levinsky of the Czech Republic and Sweden's Robert Lindstedt in the first round.Reuse content