Andy Murray's first ATP Tour final in more than two years ended in defeat on Saturday as the former world No 1 came up short against top seed Aslan Karatsev at the Sydney Tennis Classic.
Murray last competed for, and won, an ATP final at the European Open in Antwerp in October 2019, but unlike that victory over Stan Wawrinka, the 34-year-old Briton struggled to assert himself against Russia's Karatsev, who claimed a relatively comfortable 6-3, 6-3 victory.
Karatsev, the world No 20, assumed immediate control of the match by breaking in the opening game and again in the ninth as Murray struggled on serve throughout the opening set, landing just 48 per cent of his first serves and committing four double faults.
The second set began much like the first as the 28-year-old Karatsev broke early to seize the advantage, consistently hurting Murray with a barrage of powerful winners from the back of the court.
Murray, ranked No 135 as he continues his climb back up the rankings after career-saving hip surgery, showed glimpses of his old self in a fifth game that lasted nearly 13 minutes as the three-time Grand Slam champion battled valiantly to get a break back, but Karatsev weathered the storm and held on, eventually taking the match in one hour 32 minutes.
Despite the defeat, Murray thanked his team — including new coach Jan de Witt — for helping him end his long wait for an ATP final.
“First time back in the finals for three years, it's been a long road to get back here but I couldn't have done it without your help, so thank you,” he said.
“I'd also like to thank my family back home. I don't know if you were watching but I miss you all.”
Victory gave Karatsev his third ATP title, following wins at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship and the Kremlin Cup last season.
“Thanks to my team, we are doing an amazing job,” Karatsev said during the awards presentation.
Both players will now head to the Australian Open, where Karatsev made his historic breakthrough last year when he become the first male player to reach a Grand Slam semi-final on debut. Karatsev, who will be seeded 18th at Melbourne Park, takes on Spain's Jaume Munar in the first round.
Murray, meanwhile, has been granted a wildcard for the Australian Open and the five-time finalist will face Georgian 21st seed Nikoloz Basilashvili, whom he defeated earlier this week in Sydney.