The World No 49 had been looking to go deep in Basel and pick up some valuable ranking points in his quest to break back into the top 32 and thus be seeded for the Australian Open in January. However, Murray was miles away from his best level against the Spaniard, ranked No 22 in the world, in their last-16 match and lost 6-3 6-2.
Murray had booked his date with Bautista Agut by grinding out a three-set victory over qualifier Roman Safiullin in the previous round and knew he would need to raise his level against the sixth seed, who thrashed Murray 6-0 6-1 in Doha earlier this season. While this defeat was not as galling at that one in Qatar, the Scot – who was making his first appearance at the indoor hard court event in Basel since 2005 – coughed up 29 unforced errors and was broken four times his Spanish opponent. This was not a good day at the office for Murray.
The first set was a messy affair, with Murray breaking serve early, only to be pegged back straight away. A costly eighth game allowed Bautista Agut to move ahead 5-3 and despite a couple of wobbles, managed to serve it out, with neither man playing their best tennis. However, Murray’s level dipped considerably in the second set, spraying shots long, wide and into the net as the Spaniard remained solid, winning almost all rallies that went beyond five shots. He comfortably took it 6-2 and will now face either Ugo Humbert of France or Denmark’s rising star Holger Rune.
Murray’s chances of being seeded for the Australian Open now hinge on a strong performance at the Paris Masters in Bercy next week, the final event of the regular ATP Tour season. The 35-year-old would likely need a run to the quarter-finals at least to be inside the top 32. Murray has won the event, played on a slower indoor court, in the past, but he will need to lift his form considerably from what he showed in Basel. The positive for him is that he is not defending many ranking points after a surprise and agonising final-set tie-break loss to qualifier Dominik Koepfer in Paris last year, where he failed to convert seven match points.
It was not a particularly good day for British tennis, with the country’s No 1 player Cameron Norrie crashing out of the Erste Bank Open after being beaten in straight sets by American Marcos Giron in the second round. It took Giron just one hour and 21 minutes to claim a 6-3 6-4 victory over the world number 13 and all but end Norrie’s slim chances of reaching next month’s ATP Finals. Giron, who sits 45 places below Norrie in the rankings, now progresses to the quarter-finals of the competition, where he will meet Grigor Dimitrov.
It leaves Dan Evans as the last remaining Brit involved across the two 500 series events. After a fine win over Karen Khachanov in Vienna on Wednesday, unseeded Evans – ranked 26th in the world – will take on Denis Shapovalov on Friday afternoon for a place in the semi-finals.