Doha - Wimbledon champion Andy Murray started the new year with an immediate setback when he was beaten 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 by Florian Mayer, the world number 40 from Germany, in the second round of the Qatar Open.
It was only Murray's second match on the ATP World Tour after a four-month absence caused by a back operation and the loss is a worrying disappointment for the Scot as he tries to rebuild his match fitness.
The result was even more of a stunner because Murray had led by a set and 3-0 before faltering, and once his opponent had gained momentum there seemed no way of stopping it.
A former top 20 player, Mayer began playing to that level, forsaking caution and attacking with brilliant variety with angled drives, net approaches and occasional drop shots.
"It was amazing," said Mayer. "He was up 6-3, 3-0 and the match seemed almost finished.
"I don't know how I came back. I played fantastic tennis. In the third set maybe he was injured, but I played well.
"I just decided to go for it, I played aggressive and tried everything: I had nothing to lose any more."
Although in the circumstances Murray's loss was not such a surprise, the manner of it was. He had started very well, breaking Mayer's serve in the fifth and ninth games, and surging on with rhythmic ground strokes in the second set.
But he became increasing defensive as Mayer imposed himself on the match, and after letting slip two break points to reach 4-2, Murray hurled down his racket and flung away his sweat bands. Soon afterwards he asked for the physio.
Results in the Qatar Open on Wednesday (x denotes seeding):
Victor Hanescu (ROU) bt Fernando Verdasco (ESPx8) 4-6, 7-6 (7-0), 6-2
Peter Gojowczyk (GER) bt Philipp Kohlschreiber (GERx6) 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (9-7)
Rafael Nadal (ESPx1) bt Tobias Kamke (GER) 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 6-3
Ernests Gulbis (LATx7) bt Lukas Kubot (POL) 6-2, 4-6, 6-3
Dustin Brown (GER) bt Ivo Karlovic (CRO) 3-6, 7-6 (15-13), 6-4
Florian Mayer (GER) bt Andy Murray (GBR x3) 3-6, 6-4, 6-2
But it did not help and Mayer grew more and more confident as Murray's body language slumped.
He served a double fault and dropped serve at the start of the third set and never got close to breaking Mayer's delivery again after that.
Remarkably Murray won no points against the Mayer serve in his next three service games, and although Murray got 15-30 ahead in the last game, it was a very brief reprieve. After an hour and 51 minutes' action his aggression seemed sapped.
Murray had hinted at the possibility of such a setback the night before.
"Provided I can get myself healthy again - you know I just need to put in the hours on the practice court - the results will come. But it might take a bit of time," he warned.
"I need to be patient with myself, and not expect too much too soon, because that's the worst thing you can do.
"If you expect to play your best tennis straight away and it's not happening it can get frustrating. And when you are frustrated it's hard to improve.
"There will be some bumps over the next few months - but I just need to come out the other side well."
His words proved prophetic.