Andy Murray had hoped that the return to grass would turn around his fortunes but the world No 4 last night suffered a setback in his preparations for Wimbledon when he lost his opening match here in the Aegon Championships.
Murray, who had a moderate clay-court campaign which was dogged by injury problems, was beaten 6-3, 6-7, 7-6 by France's Nicolas Mahut, the world No 65, after a tight contest that lasted more than two and a half hours.
The bad weather has limited Murray's practice time on grass – as it has Mahut's – and it showed in his movement in particular. The 25-year-old Scot, who has won the title here twice in the last three years, often had trouble keeping his footing on the lush grass and did not run with his usual fluidity.
Nevertheless he insisted there was "no need to panic" and said he would probably play one or two exhibition matches next week before Wimbledon, which starts in 11 days' time. He added: "I lost 7-6 in the third set in my first match of the tournament. It takes a bit of time to adjust to the grass courts."
Mahut is a proven performer on this surface, having reached the final here five years ago. The 30-year-old Frenchman is at his highest world ranking for four years.
A single break of serve in the sixth game, secured with a forehand cross-court winner, gave Mahut the first set. Murray let slip a 3-0 lead in the second set but played a good tie-break, winning it 7-4 with a beautifully judged backhand from an acute angle.
Murray also made the first break in the decider, only to immediately drop his own serve. It is a recurring theme for the Scot, who did the same on five occasions in his quarter-final defeat by David Ferrer in the quarter-finals of the French Open. The set again went to a tie-break, which Mahut won 7-1 after a series of errors by Murray.
"It was a very close match," Murray said afterwards. "Losing serve at the beginning of the third set after breaking him was probably not great. That got him back into the match. Then I probably missed about four shots in a row that hit the tape in the tie-break."
The Scot's defeat is a major blow for the tournament, which has also lost two of its other main attractions in Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt. Roddick's miserable year continued when he was beaten 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 by France's Edouard Roger-Vasselin, the world No 67. Roddick, who has been increasingly troubled by injuries in his latter years, has just two quarter-final appearances in minor events in San Jose and Delray Beach to show for his season so far. He has lost his last six matches.
Four times a champion here, Roddick had not lost his opening match since his debut year in 2001. The 29-year-old American, who said he had made no long-term decisions about his career, is already down to No 32 in the world rankings and at this rate may not even be seeded at Wimbledon.
Elena Baltacha was meeting Heather Watson last night in a confrontation between two of the leading Britons at the Aegon Classic at Edgbaston. Earlier in the day Baltacha completed a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory over Kai-Chen Chang, of Chinese Taipei.
Anne Keothavong, who this week replaced Baltacha as British No 1, was unable to build on her first-round victory over Tamira Paszek and lost 6-3, 6-4 to Jie Zheng, a former Wimbledon semi-finalist. Laura Robson was beaten 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 by Marina Erakovic, while Tara Moore went down 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 to Casey Dellacqua.