All things must pass and the best run of Andy Murray's career finally came to an end here last night.
After winning 17 matches and three tournaments in a row, the world No 3 was beaten 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 by Tomas Berdych in a gruelling quarter-final in the Paris Masters that lasted nearly three and a quarter hours.
In a match that provided rich entertainment for a near-capacity crowd in the 14,500-seat Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, Berdych won 122 points to Murray's 119. The Czech converted only two of 14 break points and the Scot just two out of 17. To Murray's anger, Berdych saved two break points in the final set after being handed three new balls in the middle of a game after complaining about the state of those he was playing with.
It was only Murray's second defeat in 29 matches and the Scot should still head for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals beginning in London in eight days' time in good heart. He has overcome the injury he suffered last week and will be match-sharp for the year-ending finale at the O2 Arena.
Berdych, who has beaten Murray in their last three meetings, may lack finesse and make plenty of errors, but he is a formidable ball-striker. The world No 7, who is 6ft 5in tall, has a big serve and huge forehand. He was less than comfortable when stooping to pick up low, skidding slices and drop shots, but regularly had Murray in trouble with his thunderbolt groundstrokes.
Having saved three break points in his opening service game, Murray made the only break of the first set at 3-3, though he needed nine set points to close it out. Berdych made an early break in the second set, failed to serve out at 5-3 but won the tie-break 7-5.
Murray was involved in a heated row with Fergus Murphy, the umpire, after Berdych was handed three new balls when serving at 1-2 and 15-40 in the decider. "I wasn't aware that they were just changing three brand new balls, which totally changed the way the ball and the court play," Murray said afterwards, though he did not blame the incident for his defeat. "I personally don't think there was any issue with the balls. It was the fact he was down on his serve."
The Scot added: "I said 'bollocks' to the chair umpire and that got me a warning. I've been to watch a lot of football matches and you say a lot worse than that and you don't get a yellow card."
Berdych, having broken at 4-4, saved three break points in the following game before converting his second match point when Murray put a forehand return wide. The Czech, who is in the field for London, will face Roger Federer in today's semi-finals, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will play the 6ft 9in American John Isner, who beat David Ferrer 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 last night.
Tsonga benefited from the withdrawal yesterday of Novak Djokovic, whose shoulder injury casts a doubt over his participation at the O2 Arena. The world No 1 hurt his back and ribs in giving his all to win the US Open and has not been the same since. In his three subsequent appearances he retired hurt in the second set of a Davis Cup rubber, damaged his shoulder while losing to Kei Nishikori in Basle and looked decidedly jaded in winning two matches here.
"I have pushed myself to the limit by playing and after the match yesterday my shoulder got worse," Djokovic said. "My season has been long and tiring. I played all of my matches at my highest level and now my body is aching for recovery."