The 24-year-old Frenchman defeated the double Wimbledon winner in three sets.
Andy Murray’s comeback hit another bump in the road after defeat to Lucas Pouille in the first round of the Western & Southern Open.
Cincinnati is well known for being home to the famous Graeter’s Ice Cream, but unfortunately for Murray, his hopes for a decent tournament ahead of the US Open melted quickly in the Ohio sunshine.
It was his first appearance on court since pulling out of the Citi Open two weeks ago and rustiness showed as the former world number one began timidly against a fresher Pouille.
Whether he was still recovering from those titanic matches in Washington, or changed his approach, something wasn’t quite right from the outset. His serving was not up to scratch during the opening set, as he recorded six double-faults. He was broken three times by his French opponent, who closed out a comfortable first set 6-1 within 29 minutes.
The one positive the Scot could take from a lacklustre opening set was that he was winning the majority of points from the long rallies. However, Pouille hadn’t needed to get out of second gear and looked well on course to end the contest quickly.
But where most players would capitulate in such a situation, Murray rallied. His performance levels improved during the second set, and the roles were quickly reversed. The 31-year-old broke the 16th seed, before holding serve to take a 2-0 lead. The former world number one only made three unforced errors, and won more points on his first serve as he raced to take the second set 6-1, as the match went to a decider.
The tables then turned once again. Murray started the final set nervously and double-faulted the opening point, before being broken by a resurgent Pouille desperate to make amends for a poor second set.
Missed chances then cost the 31-year-old the match. He failed to convert a crucial break point before falling 3-1 behind. Despite saving a match point at 5-3, Murray was helpless as his French opponent served out the match to claim a 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 win.
Whilst this defeat will disappoint British fans, it was a first victory over Murray for Pouille at the fifth attempt.
The Frenchman has been a regular on the ATP Tour this season, with this being his 17th competition in 2018. Whilst he is gaining more experience on court and slowly climbing up into the world top 20, the 24-year-old can still be a loose canon on the court.
His performance against Murray showed why. His game heavily revolves around speed, and this can sometimes effect the accuracy and precision of his shots. Where he was clinical in the opening set, he lost composure during the second and mistakes began to creep in.
But he held his nerve in the final set, and found his range once again to hit some impressive winners. Pouille hit a total of 40 in the match as he defeated the former world number one in an hour and 53 minutes to book his place in round two.
Murray is not scheduled to play again until the US Open at Flushing Meadows, which begins on the 27th August. He now has four tournaments under his belt after missing a year out with a hip injury, but there is much that needs improving still – especially his serving.
He may take up a wildcard at the Winston-Salem Open next week after this defeat, but it will depend on whether his body can cope with another tournament just one week before the gruelling five-set matches at the final Grand Slam of the year.