His fellow Scot, Jamie Baker, had already lost to Ivo Karlovic by the time Andy Murray smashed a ball out of Rod Laver Arena in frustration after his defeat by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga here yesterday. It was still an hour before sunrise back home on the first day of the Australian Open but British interest in the singles was over for another year.
If Baker's 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-4 defeat by an opponent 193 places above him in the world rankings was to be expected, Murray's exit was a major blow. The 20-year-old Scot had come here encouraged by his winter training and his tournament win in Doha in the first week of the new season, but the manner of his 7-5, 6-4, 0-6, 7-6 defeat by the French No 5 will provide a big test for his newly assembled coaching entourage.
Murray has built his burgeoning reputation on the inventiveness of his game, the intelligence of his shot selection and his ability to handle a big occasion, but those qualities were called into question by what was at times a ragged performance. He played drop shots at the wrong moment, lobbed ineffectually and saw his serve punished by some blistering returns. Nobody outruns the British No 1, but all too often he failed to find a telling finish when chasing down balls played short or wide, while Tsonga repeatedly read his attempted passing shots.
Murray professed puzzlement at the thigh complaint from which Tsonga appeared to be suffering. "I've never had cramp where I've not been able to serve and then next time been able to serve at 210 kilometres [130 miles] per hour," he said. "He hit one [smash] jumping like Michael Jordan. I don't know what the problem was, whether it was nerves or what. It can't have anything to do with fatigue or cramp, because cramp doesn't go and come back and go and come back – it stays."
Murray has yet to go beyond the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament and he needs to make some key decisions in the coming weeks, particularly as he will review his relationship with Miles Maclagan, who has been a central figure in his new coaching team, after this tournament. Identifying what went wrong is crucial as the world No 9 faces a testing time before the start of the European clay-court season.
Having reached the last 16 here 12 months ago, Murray may well drop out of the world's top 10 at the end of this tournament. Indeed, his ranking will come under increasing pressure in the coming weeks. Because of Britain's Davis Cup tie away to Argentina next month Murray has had to forgo his usual early-season trip to America, where he has won the San Jose tournament two years in succession. Interrupting his hard-court campaign to play on clay in Buenos Aires will hardly help when he defends the ranking points he earned in reaching Masters Series semi-finals at both Indian Wells and Miami last year.
Brad Gilbert, dismissed as Murray's coach two months ago, is an acknowledged master at sizing up an opponent, but even the American might have had trouble preparing his man to face 22-year-old Tsonga, one of 29 French players in the singles draws here. The world No 38 is an all-or-nothing shot-maker who can test the very best, as Andy Roddick discovered when taken to four sets here last year.
Tsonga made 61 unforced errors compared to Murray's 27, but served well, volleyed with confidence, hit blistering forehand winners and made mincemeat of the Scot's second serve in winning the first two sets. Murray was in trouble from the first game, when he saved four break points, and dropped his serve two games later as Tsonga went on the attack. After breaking back to level at 5-5 Murray misfired in the following game and dropped his serve again in the opening game of the second set.
The Scot finally found his stride in the third and was on top for much of the fourth, only to make mistakes at key moments. At 4-4 he played a poor game to leave Tsonga serving for the match and, although the Frenchman then faltered, Murray's errors proved decisive in the tie-break. At 2-0 up he put an attempted drop shot into the net, at 4-4 he served a double-fault and at 5-6 he hit a forehand out on Tsonga's first match point.
Although disappointed with his passing shots and early returns of serve, Murray felt he was the stronger player at the end and could have won but for a few poor shots and wrong decisions. "I don't think it's the end of the world," he said. "I didn't feel I got completely outplayed and I didn't feel I was the worse player physically. That sometimes happens in sport. You play a fairly decent match and you don't come through."
Baker, a qualifier, was justifiably satisfied by his performance in keeping Karlovic on court for more than three hours. Murray's fellow Scot looks likely to fill the second singles berth in Buenos Aires next month and proved with a gutsy display that he has a big-match temperament.
The world No 217 was broken in the 10th game of both the first two sets, took the third by winning the tie-break 7-1 and lost the fourth after dropping his serve in the opening game. Baker was unhappy at having his momentum halted when the Croatian world No 24 took a lengthy toilet break after the third set.
Murray's Grand Slam record so far
Wimbledon: Lost 3R v David Nalbandian 6-7, 1-6, 6-0, 6-4, 6-1
US Open: Lost 2R v Arnaud Clement 6-2, 7-6, 2-6, 6-7, 6-0
Australian Open: Lost 1R v Juan Ignacio Chela 6-1, 6-3, 6-3
French Open: Lost 1R v Gaël Monfils 6-4, 6-7, 1-6, 6-2, 6-1
Wimbledon: Lost 4R v Marcos Baghdatis 6-3, 6-4, 7-6
US Open: Lost 4R v Nikolay Davydenko 6-1, 5-7, 6-3, 6-0
Australian Open: Lost 4R v Rafael Nadal 6-7, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1
US Open: Lost 3R v Lee Hyung-Taik 6-3, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5
Australian Open: Lost 1R v Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-5, 6-4, 0-6, 7-6Reuse content