There won’t be a second US Open title for Andy Murray, at least not this year, after he was dumped out of Flushing Meadows by Kei Nishikori. The Japanese player showed great resilience to beat the World #2 in five sets, 1-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5, to reach only his second Grand Slam semi-final.
Murray looked to be cruising in the beginning. He played some solid tennis in the opening set and took it comfortably. His opponent on the other hand was struggling to hold serve. Nishikori also produced 14 unforced errors compared to Murray’s three in the first set .
The second set was much closer and Nishikori’s resilience was rewarded when he broke in the tenth game to even the match up. The 29-year-old Scot turned the tables and bounced back to take the third set. However, it was the beginning of the fourth where things began to go pear-shaped for Murray.
The turning point
Whilst Nishikori must be praised, he was helped significantly by an Andy Murray meltdown in the fourth set. During a break point at 1-1, Murray looked in charge of the rally. However a huge clanging sound from the arena’s PA sounded out around the court, resulting in umpire Marija Čičak calling a let. To say the Scot was upset would be an understatement.
Murray was incensed and argued with the umpire as well as the tournament referee. He claimed there was a similar noise earlier in the match and that he was informed they’d play on if it were to happen again.
For a player who is a master tactician and often the personification of mental toughness, Murray was all over the place. He had checked out and was battling the umpire, the crowd, and his opponent at this point.
In essence, the World #2 not only lost his temper, but also his focus, as Nishikori went on to win seven games in a row. Murray’s reaction was unnecessary and it allowed Nishikori a way back into the match.
Fifth set drama
There’s no doubt that that was a major turning point, but in the context of this match it was one of many. The fifth set alone was bursting with drama. The Japanese struck first by breaking Murray’s serve in the first game and a subsequent hold saw him lead 2-0. It was looking ominous for Murray, but the match was far from over.
The Scot managed to level the score at 2-2 before being broken again to trail 3-2. Just when it looked like Murray was down and out he was thrown a lifeline. Nishikori choked in the eighth game, losing his serve from 40-0 up, missing a simple forehand volley to bring up deuce.
However, there was one more remarkable twist. Murray produced only his third double fault of the match at 5-5 to give the wWrld #6 a break point. Nishikori took advantage with a well-anticipated volley and Murray was left to crack the net cord with his racket.
Murray wasn’t able to pull off another great escape, as the Japanese #1 held his nerve to serve out the match.
Where the match was won and lost
Meltdown aside, Murray’s serving was extremely poor. His first serve percentage was just 55% and this dropped to 39% in the fourth set . The much-improved second serve looked weak once again, and Nishikori regularly took advantage.
The Scot didn’t serve well throughout the tournament and it contributed to his downfall here. This was particularly damning given that Nishikori’s serve was hardly firing on all cylinders. It wasn’t a case of whether a player could break, it was whether they could hold. Overall there were 17 breaks of serve .
Nishikori also started to grow in confidence as the match progressed. He provided a drop shot masterclass and was finding great success at the net. His variation caused Murray problems and it allowed him to dictate many points in the fourth and fifth sets.
From Murray’s point of view he became too passive. Rather than playing on the front foot, he found himself being reactive and this ultimately cost him.
Another small point is the roof. Murray had only lost to his Japanese opponent once before and that was indoors at the ATP World Tour Finals in London . You can argue that the roof closure suited Nishikori as Murray is one of the best players on tour at using outdoor conditions to his advantage. Whether it would have had any bearing on the match is unclear (unless it could have prevented the loud gong sound).
This is the first time Murray has lost with Lendl in attendance since their reunion. Nishikori played well, but you can’t help but feel Andy Murray will look back on this as a missed opportunity. For Nishikori a semi-final showdown with either Juan Martin del Potro or Stan Wawrinka awaits.