Andy Murray was beaten by fellow veteran Fabio Fognini to suffer a disappointing first round exit at the Italian Open.
Murray, who had just claimed success at an ATP Challenger event in Aix-en-Provence on Sunday, had hoped to extend his five-match winning streak, but instead saw his time in Rome end early for the 35-year-old home favorite.
A 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 loss to the world number 130 halts the Briton’s momentum, who will now turn his attention to the French Open later this month.
Murray, a three-time Grand Slam winner, got off to the worst possible start in Italy with Fognini able to break him in his first service game.
While the Scotsman forced a series of chances to rally to make it 3-2, he was unable to seize the moment and his frustration boiled over later in the set with a debate with referee Mohamed Lahyani over a tight line that saw Fognini go 5 – 3 up.
Fognini managed a first goal in the 69th minute, but quickly found himself 4-0 down in the second with Murray hitting his straps, albeit aided by a series of double faults from his opponent.
A wobble in the second set saw the veterans trade breaks before Murray forced a decider with the match at that point exceeding two hours.
Although Fognini seemingly struggled physically throughout the second set, he found a new lease on life and seized the initiative with an early break in the third.
Murray tried to keep up with the Italian, who was mixing a variety of baseline winners with unforced errors, but concern arose for the two-time Wimbledon winner when he was held back during the seventh game of the third.
It wasn’t enough to stop the new world number 42 from continuing and yet there wouldn’t be much of a fight this time around with Fognini taking a fifth win in nine meetings thanks to an ace after two hours and 55 minutes.
This latest first-round outing at an ATP 1000 event on clay, following similar losses in Madrid and Monto-Carlo, will give Murray around 10 days of preparation before Roland Garros begins on May 22, where he is now unlikely to be seeded.
Elsewhere, fellow Briton Kyle Edmund was also knocked out in the first round of the Italian Open after suffering a 6-1, 6-3 loss to Alexandre Muller.
World number 473 Edmund saw his struggles continue against a French player who broke into the top 100 last month.
Muller managed to wrap up the first set in 23 minutes in Rome and although Edmund was able to put more pressure on his opponent in the second, the former Australian Open semifinalist was doomed to a third straight defeat.