An injured Andy Murray today went down 6-4 2-6 6-1 against world number one Rafael Nadal in a pulsating Monte Carlo Rolex Masters semi-final.
In a match of punch and counterpunch, Murray pushed the king of clay to his limit for two electrifying sets on the red dirt of Monaco, before pre-match treatment on the British number one's elbow wore off in the deciding set.
For two mesmeric sets in front of Monaco's Prince Albert, Murray and Nadal rolled out some red-carpet sport. It was an epic, three-hour drama that will live long in the memory of lovers of expansive, expressive tennis.
After an improbable 70-minute first set featuring numerous service breaks, Nadal engineered the decisive breakthrough with the Scot serving at 4-5, stretching Murray wide throughout the game to steal the initiative.Read more (337 words)
The first set had been nip and tuck, decided by a loose point here and there, and by Murray's painful elbow, which may have been a factor in the Scot's lamentable 38% first-service statistics.
However, it was in the following set that Murray revealed his true clay-court potential, going blow for blow with Nadal on his favourite surface and restricting the world number one to just three clean winners.
Murray took the set 6-2 and became the only man to extend Nadal to a third set in the principality since Djokovic in the 2009 final. Mixing searing pace and torrid spin with astute defence, Murray was dominating Nadal in the baseline rallies and demonstrating a refurbished forehand that bore a passing resemblance to a guided missile.
As pendulous rally followed immaculately carved dropshot, and the play strafed from forehand to backhand to forecourt, observers recalled the pair's epic encounter at the O2 in November, which Nadal himself described as the best match of 2010.
The difference from the Barclays World Finals was underfoot. This was clay, reportedly as alien a surface to Murray as ice before this revelatory performance, in which the world number four repeatedly unveiled a monster forehand and a willingness to attack at all costs.
With the deciding set looming, Nadal looked like he'd been stung by one of the jellyfish that infest the nearby Larvotto Beach. But the game was up and the ATP trainer was on, attempting to massage new life into Murray's inhibiting joint.
It was all to no avail. The Scot's sparkling display petered out in a series of tired-looking strikes that frequently found the net or the tramlines, and the Spaniard comfortably took the set 6-1, and with it a shot at his seventh successive title.
His health permitting, Murray can take solace in an eye-opening clay-court performance against arguably the surface's finest-ever exponent. The display opens up new dimensions in the Scot's career at a time when most fans were waiting less than patiently for the green, green grass of home.