FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Andy Murray threw the most revealing punch, but Stanislas Wawrinka delivered the resounding knockout. Whipping his one-handed backhand with authority, playing with aggression and pumping his first with a fury, the 25th-seed Swiss sent Murray out of the US Open with a 6-7(3), 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-3 third-round knockout.
“I think all my game was pretty good. One of my best matches, for sure,” Wawrinka said. “I was very aggressive. I was doing everything really good so I’m very happy.”
The fourth-seeded Scot is the highest-seeded man to fall from the draw, exiting a day after the fourth-ranked woman, Jelena Jankovic, lost to Kaia Kanepi on Arthur Ashe Stadium Court.
“I’m very disappointed, obviously,” Murray said. “But I think I’ve been more disappointed in other Grand Slams when you get closer to winning the tournament, I think it becomes a lot harder to take. I’m very disappointed, that’s it.”
It marked the second straight early exit from the Open for Murray, who fell to Roger Federer in the 2008 US Open final, but suffered a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 upset loss to Marin Cilic in the round of 16 last year. Murray took treatment for tightness in his quad and elbow pain, but said injuries did not play a part in his demise.
“He played better than me. There’s not a whole lot more to it,” Murray said. “He had a chance to win the first set; didn’t take it. I had a chance to win the second set; didn’t take it. I just struggled from then on.”
It is a deeply disappointing loss for Murray, who swept Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in succession to capture the Rogers Cup in Toronto and went on to win the US Open Series. Murray split with coach Miles MacLagan in July and has been working with coaching consultant Alex Corretja at the Open. Murray said this loss will not expedite his coaching search.
“No, no. You got to be patient. I was getting asked five, six days ago, ‘You’re playing great tennis will you think about going without a coach?’ ” Murray said. “It’s based on one match. I’m not going to panic and hire someone to try to make things better. So no. I’m going to take my time. I’m going to go home, have a rest, cause I need it, and see what I decide to do after that.”
Murray’s loss may well be Sam Querrey’s gain.
The 20th-seeded Querrey crushed Nicolas Almagro, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, and will now play Wawrinka in what will likely be a night match on Arthur Ashe Stadium Court with a trip to the quarterfinals on the line.
“That will be a tough one. Stan is one of the guys that hits the balls so big from both sides,” Querrey said. “If he gets hot, he can beat anyone. He can hit the ball so well and so clean. That would be someone you need to get him out of his comfort zone and mix it up and, you know, serve big and maybe attack his second serve and maybe catch him off guard a little bit.”
In their line prior meeting, Wawrinka edged Querrey, 2-6, 7-5, 7-6(8), at Indian Wells last year.
“That was a crazy match again, but he’s a very good player,” Wawrinka said of Querrey. “I think he improved a lot over the last two years. He’s a strong player. Big serve. It is never easy to play him. If I can keep the same level the serve for sure will be important for him and to stay aggressive because he doesn’t like to play on the defense and to be under pressure.”
It’s an interesting match-up in that Querrey is at his best running around his backhand and firing his inside-out forehand, but given the fact Wawrinka’s one-handed backhand is his best shot, Querrey will likely drag his forehand down the line at times. Both men can crack their serves so it could well be a match of first-strike tennis.
The last time Wawrinka met Murray at the Open he played meekly and got mauled, managing just seven games in the 2008 round of 16. Working with coach Peter Lundgren, who coached both Roger Federer and Marat Safin to Grand Slam titles, Wawrinka has tried to take the first strike in rallies more often.
“We start a month ago. We enjoy to work together,” Wawrinka said of Lundgren. “He helped me a little bit to be more aggressive and that helped me a lot today.”
Today’s rematch was played primarily on even terms until the third set when Wawrinka began to turn his shoulders into his shots, step into the court more and drive the ball with crushing conviction.
Wawrinka served bigger and bolder over the course of the final two sets. One of Murray’s primary problems is his first serve percentage often lets him down. Murray served 50 percent for the match, but only 36 percent in the third set and 38 percent in the fourth set. Murray, who favors a slice serve that often flirts with the top of the tape, is either unable or unwilling to try to take a bit off the first serve and increase his percentage.
He gave Wawrinka too many looks at his second serve and paid the price, winning just 15 of 42 points played on his second serve over the course of the final two sets. Murray is a usually an adept problem-solver on court, but by the latter stages of today’s match he wore the vacant expression of a man who had run out of ideas.
“I still feel like I’m super fit. I just didn’t feel great,” Murray said. “There were a lot of things that I was feeling on court. I just haven’t felt that way for a few years now. So I’m going to have to go look at why that was the case and try to get better.”
Neutralizing Murray’s speed by cracking balls down the line, Wawrinka began pounding away at the counter-puncher.
That’s when a singles match grew crowded as Murray began fighting both Wawrinka and himself. At one point, a frustrated Murray punched his racquet face as if trying to slug some sense in his stings.
“I was disappointed that I was struggling physically,” Murray said. “I tried to find a way to come back. Didn’t quite do it. I was disappointed that I’ve not really been in that position for a long tome….In the third and fourth sets, I was struggling physically and I got frustrated with that…Maybe I felt my chance of doing well here was slipping away.”
As Murray tried to explain the loss in his post-match press conference, he glanced up at the flat screen television mounted on the wall to his right and noticed the USTA’s video feed of himself in the press conference.
It was as if Murray was looking over his own shoulder and when he was asked if the defeat plants any seeds of doubt in his mind that he will eventually master a major, Murray spoke like a wounded man wary of looking too far ahead.
“I have no idea of whether I’ll win a Grand Slam or not,” Murray said. “I want to, but I mean if I never win one, then what? If I give a hundred percent, try my best, physically work as hard as I can, practice as much as I can, than that’s all I can do, you know. It’s something I would love to do. It’s a very difficult thing, but I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll win a Grand Slam or not. But I’ll give it my best shot.”
Wawrinka may well be best known by many fans as the man who partnered Roger Federer to the Olympic doubles gold medal in Beijing two years ago and celebrated with an embrace on the court. Wawrinka and Federer are good friends and for one day Wawrinka stood alone as a bigger story than even the five-time US Open champion.
“I hope I can still be in the tournament after the next match,” Wawrinka said. “I know it’s gonna be a tough match.
Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.