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Andy Murray and Richard Gasquet have played 12 times in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series (Murray leads 8-4).

Gasquet Spoils Murray's Singles Return In Cincinnati

Scot returns to singles action for first time since 14 January

The motivation remains, but Andy Murray's singles comeback began with a fair share of rust on Monday at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.

Playing in his first singles match in 210 days, the 32-year-old moved gingerly on court and often opted to play the safe shot with plenty of topspin against Richard Gasquet, who had little trouble against his peer.

The Frenchman used his vast array of spin and angles from both wings to push Murray from side to side and front to back, mixing in drop shots with backhand drives. Gasquet earned only his fourth victory in their 12-match FedEx ATP Head2Head series and ended a five-match losing streak against Murray, 6-4, 6-4.

“I think I did okay. I think there were a lot of things I would like to have done better in the match, but you also have to be somewhat realistic, in terms of what you can expect,” Murray said.

“[Richard] uses all of the angles on the court. He's one of the best at doing that. So I was having to move quite a lot laterally, and I didn't move forward particularly well. Like when he drop shotted, there was a few times I didn't even run to the ball, didn't react to it, and that's nothing to do with my hip. That's just me not running for a ball, which I did do better at the end of the match.”

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Murray last played singles on 14 January at the Australian Open, a five-set loss to Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut. At the time, Murray thought it might have been his last singles match. The 2016 year-end No. 1 had already undergone one surgery on his right hip on 8 January 2018, and he was contemplating retirement – or another hip surgery. 

Murray chose the latter on 28 January and returned to the doubles court nearly two months ago with Spain's Feliciano Lopez, winning the Fever-Tree Championships at The Queen's Club in London. Gradually, though, Murray began practising singles and felt comfortable enough to ask for a wild card at the season's seventh ATP Masters 1000 event, where he is a two-time champion.

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Gasquet, however, with his touch and wizardry from the back of the court, probed Murray's fitness all match as Murray's friends Nick Kyrgios and Feliciano Lopez watched. The Frenchman broke Murray twice in the opener, and it wasn't until the fourth game of the second set that the tentative Murray landed his first groundstroke winner – a crosscourt forehand on the run.

The Scot seemed to be settling into the match at that moment and had a break point to get back on serve at 2-2. But Gasquet never let go his early break. “In the second set, he started to play better. We did great games. He was playing very good and 2-0 to 5-4 in the second set, he played much better, started to return well,” Gasquet said.

“It was tough for me, four and four. He could break me many times in the second set. So even with this, he's still a great competitor. That's why you're still scared when you face him. I know it's still Andy Murray.”

The Frenchman will next meet fourth seed Dominic Thiem, who is going for his second Masters 1000 title of the season after winning the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in March.

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Gasquet is on the comeback from a surgery of his own. He underwent groin surgery on 18 January and missed the first four months of the year.

“After surgery you never know if you're going to come back or not. Mentally, it's tough. Physically after this, it's very difficult to come back on the court, especially to play on a high level, running, one step to the other side, to serve,” Gasquet said.

“Now I'm feeling good. Of course, I fought a lot all year to come back, so now I'm feeling great... I hope it will be the same for Andy.”