Andy Murray's career-best run of 22 straight wins has finally come to an end, as he was defeated by an inspired Marin Cilic in the final of the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati.
The Scot had not lost a match anywhere since the French Open final, securing the Aegon Championships at the Queen's Club, his third Grand Slam at Wimbledon and a second Olympic gold medal in Rio before progressing to the final of the ATP 1000 tournament.
His run has featured three wins over Milos Raonic, this time in the semi-final, but Cilic had already had an outstanding tournament and after beating Grigor Dimitrov in the semi-final, he pushed on to take his first Masters 1000 trophy.
As a result, Cilic is now up to ninth in the ATP world rankings and fans booking corporate hospitality for the ATP World Tour finals will have a good chance of seeing him in action at the O2. He currently lies in tenth in the race to London, but a good run at the US Open will boost his placing.
The first set saw Murray miss one chance to break Cilic but offer up three to his opponent - two of which were taken - as the Croat surged into a 5-2 lead. Murray retrieved one break, but not the second.
In the second set, one of the best returners in tennis history barely got a sniff as Cilic continued to serve with immense power and accuracy, while his eventual tally of 24 winners was three times that of his opponent. At 5-5 Murray suddenly found himself 0-40 down on serve. He managed to dig his way out to get back to deuce, but he could not close out the game and Cilic nervelessly closed out the set to complete his 6-4, 7-5 win.
For Murray, it could be suggested that perhaps it was a game too far, having played an average of more than one match a day over the previous fortnight. Having flown to the US from Rio on the same private jet as Rafael Nadal - who complained of injury and tiredness after his early exit in Cincinnati - Murray was playing in a final while hundreds of his fellow Olympic gold medallists were still in Rio ready to party at the closing ceremony.
Having pushed himself so hard, Murray was happy with his efforts. Speaking after the match, he said: "I'm very proud of this week. Obviously today didn't go the way I would've wanted, but I certainly didn't expect to get to the final."
Get there he did, though, his seventh in a row, and all this despite a shoulder niggle. The Wimbledon champion added: "It’s obviously disappointing when you get to the final and don't win, but it was a very, very positive week considering everything. Mentally I'm in a good place just now. So I'm looking forward to New York for sure."
Murray might just be favourite ahead of Novak Djokovic for the US Open, but Cilic will be one to watch, two years on from his sole Grand Slam triumph to date. The Croat, who split with coach Goran Ivanisevic earlier this year, had only won two ATP 250 titles since then, but this victory suggests he could be a force to be reckoned with in New York.
By Alex Brundell