TENNIS: Andy Murray's hard work in reaching the ATP World Tour Finals was significantly undone by a poor display in losing his opening match to Kei Nishikori.
Murray played six weeks in a row, winning three tournaments, to book his spot at the eight-man event in London, but the odds are now firmly against him progressing from the group.
The Scot's 6-4 6-4 defeat by debutant Nishikori means he will almost certainly need to beat the other two players in Group B, Roger Federer and Milos Raonic, to stand a chance of reaching the semi-finals.
Even that might not be enough, with a straight-sets loss leaving him vulnerable when the final round-robin calculations are made.
It was not hard to find the weak spot in the former Wimbledon champion's game, Murray winning only 26 per cent of points on his second serve.
The 27-year-old had not dropped a set in three previous matches against Nishikori, who has had by far his best season on tour, capped by a run to the US Open final.
Murray said: "I don't necessarily go into every match against all the top players expecting to win. You want to win the match. That's obviously the goal all the time.
"But you're competing against the best players in the world. And Kei is obviously playing well just now, so I knew that this was a possibility."
Kearney in contention
GOLF: Niall Kearney fired a sizzling five-under-par 66 in the penultimate round of the European Tour Qualifying School's second stage over the Lumine course in Tarragona yesterday to put himself well in contention for a spot in the final leg, which begins next Saturday.
That 66 followed rounds of 70 and 69 for a 205 54-hole aggregate, giving him a tie for sixth place, with 17 berths at stake at each venue.
The Dubliner had a bogey-free round, carding halves of 32 and 34 and finishing with a pair of birdies.
David Higgins and Mark Murphy, with aggregates of 212 and 215 respectively, appear to have too much to do.