Novak Djokovic hurries past Murray in four

Serb faces Kei Nishikori in US Open semi-final after Japanese player edged past Stan Wawrinka

 Novak Djokovic  celebrates after defeating Andy Murray  in their men’s singles quarter-final  at t Flushing Meadow. Photograph: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Novak Djokovic celebrates after defeating Andy Murray in their men’s singles quarter-final at t Flushing Meadow. Photograph: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

 

Andy Murray blasted forehands as he had perhaps never blasted forehands before.

He played with fire and conviction, but there has rarely been a tennis champion better at absorbing pace and ambition than Novak Djokovic.

And by the end, this once loud and luminous US Open quarter-final, which began last night and ended this morning, had become something much more muted, with Murray clearly in pain and Djokovic clearly in command, the result a foregone conclusion.

The only other time they had met in Arthur Ashe Stadium, in the 2012 final, Murray was the winner in five sets as he won his first Grand Slam singles title.

But this time, no matter how long it seemed it might last at one stage, their baseline tussle did not go the distance. And the top-seeded Djokovic’s gritty, impressive 7-6 (1), 6-7 (1), 6-2, 6-4 victory put him into his eighth consecutive US Open semi-final.

His opponent Saturday, 10th-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan, will be playing in his first Grand Slam semi-final of any kind after defeating Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland in five sets in a match completed much earlier in the evening.

“We both gave our best,” Djokovic said, referring to him and Murray. “At times the tennis was not that nice. We made a lot of unforced errors, but that’s due to the very physical battle we had in the first 2 1/2 sets. I didn’t expect any less before the match.”

There were still surprises last night, above all the uncommon sting in Murray’s forehand. His two-handed backhand has long been his masterstroke, but he was determined to take bigger risks than usual, flattening out his forehand on a regular basis and hitting 20 winners, most of them crosscourt.

He also regularly forced Djokovic, the most elastic of defenders, into errors on the stretch. But Murray could not sustain his brilliance past the midway point of the third set. While the first set lasted 73 minutes and the second set precisely one hour, the final two slipped away from Murray in a comparative hurry, with his final backhand hitting the net after 3 hours, 32 minutes.

“I’m glad I managed to stay fit in the end and managed to pull it through,” Djokovic said. Murray did not manage it quite so well.

His movement was clearly hampered in the fourth set, and his service speed dropped considerably, with his first serve often failing to top 100 mph. “I tried to hang in as best I could in the fourth set,” Murray said.

“But he appeared fresher than me. Whether he was or not, I don’t know. Maybe he does a better job of hiding it than me.” After his Wimbledon title in 2013, Murray appeared set to challenge Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for supremacy in the men’s game.

Instead, he struggled with back pain and underwent what he described as minor back surgery late last year.

His ranking and consistency have slipped in 2014, and he arrived at Flushing Meadows seeded eighth. He had to fight through body cramps in his first-round victory over unseeded Robin Haase of the Netherlands.

But Murray gathered strength and momentum, looking sharp in defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France in the fourth round for his first victory over a top-10 opponent this season.

Djokovic, his boyhood friend and former doubles partner, represented a more formidable challenge, however. Djokovic now has a 13-8 lead in their career series.

Although Murray called for a trainer while trailing, 4-3, in the final set and applied a heat pack to his back during that changeover, he later said he was not injured. “I got stiff in my hips and my back towards the end of the third set,” Murray said.

“I don’t know exactly why. It was certainly coolish, but I was certainly not injured. I didn’t hurt anything. I think it was just fatigue.”

New York Times

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