Andy Murray lost to a determined Richard Gasquet at the Rome Masters on Thursday.
The 25-year-old Scot claimed the first set on a tie-break but Gasquet battled his way back into the match to triumph 6-7 (1/7) 6-3 6-2.
Gasquet goes on to face David Ferrer in the quarter-finals, while Murray's next outing on clay will be at the French Open next week.
Murray was pushed all the way by David Nalbandian before winning his second-round match 6-1 4-6 7-5 but the Scot looked set for an easier time of it after making a promising start.
He won the opening three points of the match on Gasquet's serve with a delicate drop shot, a powerful cross-court forehand and thumping two-handed backhand down the line.
However, he failed to convert any of those three break points as Gasquet battled back, and that was to be a story that summed up the opening set for the British number one.
Murray spurned 10 successive break points before finally making the most of his 11th during a lengthy seventh game that allowed the Scot to take a 4-3 lead.
Murray then saved Gasquet's first break point in the next game to go 5-3 ahead and then created a set point in the next.
Gasquet saved again though to get back to 5-4, and he broke back in the following game to tie it up at 5-5.
The set went to a tie-break which Murray won comfortably, but Gasquet came racing back, taking the first two games of the second set en route to winning it 6-3.
The decider went with serve until the sixth game, when Murray took a major gamble by advancing to the net on the Gasquet backhand and the move backfired as he could only deflect a return into the net to give the Frenchman a break at 4-2.
Gasquet was looking sharp and held to move 5-2 ahead and claimed a second break on his first and only match point, Murray thumping a tired-looking forehand into the net to bring the contest to a close.
Murray revealed after the match that a back injury is hampering his preparations for the French Open.
"I've felt it for some months, but I haven't had a chance to take a pause," he said.
"I've tried not to make it any worse, but the muscles get tired from compensating.
"I've got a lot of big events coming and there's not that much time to rest any niggles. Hopefully when the French comes, the goal is to be in peak condition."