Former world number one Andy Murray's quest for a first ATP title in over two years ended in defeat at the hands of top seed Aslan Karatsev at the Sydney Tennis Classic on Saturday, with the Russian easing his way to a 6-3, 6-3 win.
It was a third career title for the 28-year-old Karatsev, who reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open as a qualifier last year.
"It gives energy, confidence, especially when I was supposed to play the ATP Cup. I didn't. So to start the year with the title and I arrive to Melbourne already in winning matches, tournament - it for sure gives some confidence," he told reporters.
Murray, playing in his first final since the European Open in Antwerp in October 2019, started tentatively and was broken in the first game of the match as Karatsev raced into an early lead after a couple of solid holds.
Three-times major winner Murray struggled on serve throughout the opening set, landing just 48% of his first serves and committing four double faults.
The second set began much like the first as Karatsev broke early to seize the advantage, consistently hurting Murray with a barrage of powerful winners from the back of the court.
Murray showed glimpses of his old self in the fifth game that lasted nearly 13 minutes as the Briton battled valiantly to get a break back, but Karatsev weathered the storm and held on, eventually taking the match in one hour 32 minutes.
"It was a tricky moment in the second set, 3-1 service game, 15-40. It was important moment to keep the level, keep the serve," added Karatsev, who takes on Spaniard Jaume Munar in the first round of the Australian Open on Monday.
Murray, who has faced lengthy layoffs following two hip surgeries, said in an on-court interview: "I'd like to thank my team for all their help this week. First time back in the final for three years, it has been a long road to get here, but thanks for your help."
Earlier, Spanish world number nine Paula Badosa held off French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(4) to clinch the women's title.