Shenzhen - Britain's former world No 1 Andy Murray had his hopes of a second ATP Shenzhen Open title dashed on Friday night as Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco won their quarter-final clash 6-4, 6-4.
Still in the process of recovering from hip surgery in January, Murray had this week produced some of his best tennis of the year at the Shenzhen Longgang Sports Centre but in the end was simply undone by Verdasco's stealth.
Murray was broken twice - in the ninth game of the first set and the third game of the second.
Both times the winner came after Verdasco had kept the pressure on at break point, and had then pounced to put away his opponent's weaker second serve.
The 34-year-old fifth seed, who knocked Murray out of the US Open last month, also used his own serve to good effect, firing down 11 aces for the match.
Verdasco was able to repel the majority of the attacks mustered by Murray, ending the match having staved off five of the six break points he faced.
Murray, a three-time Grand Slam title winner, is bringing his season to a close with two tournaments in China and will now head to Beijing.
The 31-year-old has seen his world ranking drop to 311 due to the persistent hip problems that necessitated surgery.
But he said he would spend the northern winter working himself back to the fitness levels that saw him capture nine titles in his stellar 2016 campaign, including his second Wimbledon and his second Olympic gold.
Now standing in between Verdasco and a place in Sunday's final will be qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka.
The 22-year-old Japanese player continued his fine run of form this week by overpowering Britain's Cameron Norrie 7-6 (7/2), 6-2.
Saturday's other semi-final will see Australian teenager and seventh seed Alex de Minaur face unseeded Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
There has been a buzz around the rise of the 19-year-old De Minaur as he has moved to 40th in the world across the season, while still chasing a breakthrough tournament victory.
Friday's 6-3, 7-6 (9/7) win over fourth seed Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia showcased why the young Aussie is fast gaining a reputation as a player who loves a good scrap out on the court.
He should get exactly that against the 27-year-old Herbert, a three-time Grand Slam doubles title winner.
Herbert dug deep himself in a 6-7 (6/8), 7-6 (7/1), 6-4 quarter-final win over Spain's Albert Ramos Vinolas as the Frenchman chases a first singles title.
Results of Friday's ATP Shenzhen Open matches at the Shenzhen Longgang Sports Center (x denotes seed):
Singles - Quarter finals:
Alex De Minaur (AUS x7) bt Damir Dzumhur (BIH x4) 6-3, 7-6 (9/7)
Pierre-Hugues Herbert (FRA) bt Albert Ramos (ESP) 6-7 (6/8), 7-6 (7/1), 6-4
Yoshihito Nishioka (JPN) bt Cameron Norrie (GBR) 7-6 (7/2), 6-2
Fernando Verdasco (ESP x5) bt Andy Murray (SCO) 6-4, 6-4