Andy Murray was proud of his efforts in pushing Roger Federer as his Australian Open challenge came to an end in the quarter-finals.
Having been outplayed for the best part of three sets, Murray threatened a comeback when he saved two match points and extended the clash into a fourth set.
But, in only his seventh match since back surgery, the Scot did not have the stamina to take it to a decider and Federer won 6-3 6-4 6-7 (6/8) 6-3 after three hours and 20 minutes.
This tournament has shown the Swiss can be a force at the highest level again and he moves through to an 11th consecutive semi-final, where he will meet old foe Rafael Nadal. As well as holding two match points in the third-set tie-break, Federer also served for the match in that set only for Murray to hit back.
But the British No 1 gave his opponent a second chance when he dropped his serve at 3-4 in the fourth, and this time Federer took it.
Murray said: “I gave him the break at the end of the match. That was disappointing. In the first two sets I thought he played great tennis.
“When he was serving for the match I felt like I raised my level because I had to basically, and I obviously prolonged the match a bit further.
“I just wasn’t able to get ahead in the fourth set. I was proud of the way I fought. That’s the highest level I’ve played at in a long time. My serve slowed down a bit in the fourth set, especially the first couple of points when I was getting up after the change of ends.
“But I hung in well. I pushed through it and almost got myself back in the match.”
Murray had surgery on a long-standing back problem last September and spent the rest of 2013 trying to get himself in the right shape to compete at a grand slam.
He played only two competitive matches in the build-up and went into the tournament unsure how he would fare.
Quarter-finals has to be seen as a success, particularly given the level he showed against Federer, although the Scot will drop out of the top four in the rankings on Monday. “I’ve come a long way in four months,” said Murray.
“Obviously right now I’m very disappointed.
“There’s a few things I would have liked to have done differently. There’s maybe some things I would have done a bit differently if I was ever to have surgery again possibly.
“But it’s the first time I ever went through something like that. I thought I did a good job getting myself in good shape to be competitive at this level. I wasn’t too far away in the end.”
For Federer, meanwhile, there is the tantalising possibility of an all-Swiss final, with Stanislas Wawrinka due to play Tomas Berdych today after his stunning upset of Novak Djokovic.
The Australian Open will have a new women’s champion after Victoria Azarenka joined the purge of the favourites in Melbourne.
After exits for Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, Azarenka was toppled by a superb display of artistry from Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1 5-7 6-0 victory.
It is the first time in the Open era that both defending champions have lost in the quarter-finals at the Australian Open.
In the semi-finals the fifth seed will play Dominika Cibulkova – only her second grand slam semi-final appearance– who followed up her victory over Maria Sharapova by crushing Simona Halep 6-3 6-0.