Andy Murray’s singles comeback ends with a straight-set defeat by Italian world number nine Matteo Berrettini at Queen’s.
Murray, 34, won his first singles match in three months on Tuesday, but Berrettini proved a different level.
Former world number one Murray lost 6-3 6-3 and missed out on facing Dan Evans in the last eight in London.
British number one Evans reached the quarter-finals with a 6-4 7-6 (9-7) win against France’s Adrian Mannarino.
Evans, 31, will now face top seed Berrettini at the Cinch Championships on Friday.
The victory ensured there are three Britons in the quarter-finals of an ATP Tour event for the first time since 1996, but Murray was unable to make it four as Berrettini progressed with an assured display.
What next for Murray?
Playing in his first singles match since March after a niggling groin injury, Murray made an emotional and winning return on Tuesday when he beat France’s Benoit Paire.
Facing 25-year-old Berrettini was always set to be an increase in quality and intensity, providing a truer test of Murray’s form and fitness.
Although some of his shot-making was rusty in the rallies, Murray moved well around the court as he builds up towards Wimbledon on 28 June.
“I made some good moves on court but my tennis was not very good. That’s the thing I will need to improve most rather than the movement,” he said.
While there is another ATP grass-court event in Eastbourne next week, Murray thought it was “unlikely” he would play there because of the logistics around the tournament bubble.
“There is some slight niggles in the groin and I will have to try and get rid of that between now and Wimbledon,” added Murray.
“I need matches and I need to practise with top players over the next 10 days.”
Tougher test proves too much for Murray
While Murray’s opening opponent Paire is unpredictable, unorthodox and often falls out of love with the sport, Berrettini is unwavering, unrelenting and determined to continue his impressive rise.
Murray’s serve came under pressure in the opening game before he survived to hold, then saw his returning immediately tested by three 140mph serves from Berrettini in the second.
Always regarded as one of the game’s best returners, Murray survived that barrage to create two break points but was unable to take either and then produced a rusty service game himself to trail 3-2.
The lack of match practice saw Murray continue to make uncharacteristic errors, another poor forehand into the net sealing the opening set for the Italian.
After losing his serve for 2-0 in the second set, Murray created a break point in the next game but Berrettini survived and opened up a 4-1 lead.
Murray fought off two break points in the sixth game but was given little chance to make a dent on the serve of Berrettini – who hit 14 aces and won 83% of his first serve points – as the Italian wrapped up victory in one hour and 25 minutes.
With a 25% crowd at the west London club, the home fans gave Murray a warm round of applause as he walked off court – including Evans who watched on from the players’ area.
‘I didn’t envisage it being that tight’ – Evans digs deep to win
Sixth seed Evans became the third British player to reach the last eight, following second-round victories for Cameron Norrie and Jack Draper on Wednesday.
Evans took his second match point to reach the last eight at Queen’s for the first time.
After some impressive winners helped Evans edge the first set, the second was much tighter with both servers dominating until the 10th game where the Briton saved two set points to level at 5-5.
“It felt like a high level match and I’m pleased to come through,” said Evans, who is ranked at a career-high 25th in the world.
“I knew he was good on grass and knew it would be difficult match but I didn’t envisage it being that tight. I didn’t want it that tight either.
“It was a tough match mentally more than anything to hold on and hold my nerve at the end.”