By Ann Liguori
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Sixth-seeded Kei Nishikori pulled off the improbable, ousting No. 2 seed and 2012 US Open champion Andy Murray in five sets on Wednesday.
Nishikori, a 2014 Open finalist, survived 1-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5, in a quarterfinal match that lasted 3 hours and 58 minutes.
It was only the second time Nishikori had beaten Murray in nine attempts. And the fact that Murray was having such a spectacular year, winning his second Wimbledon title, the Olympic gold medal in Rio and had been seeking to become only the fourth man in the Open era to reach all four major finals in a calender year, contributes to the enormity of Nishikori’s upset win.
It looked initially like it was going to be a Murray rout, as he breezed through the first set, but there was a 30-minute delay during the second set when the retractable roof was closed. The players then had to go back out and warm up. When they resumed play at 3-all, Murray seemed slow to restart. Nishikori took advantage.
“I think definitely under the roof he was able to dictate more of the points,” Murray said. “You know, he was playing a bit closer to the baseline than me and taking the ball on a little bit more. At times, I was obviously doing more of the running, whereas I think in the first set and a half and when we played in the Olympics, you know, that was the other way around.”
Midway through the fourth set, Murray became irritated when the chair umpire made the players replay a point after a loud gong noise erupted from the stadium’s speaker system. Murray argued that the first time the gong noise sounded earlier in the match, they didn’t have to replay the point. He had a break point when they had to replay the point. Nishikori held his serve to go up 2-1. Murray continued arguing with the chair umpire during the change-over. He then dropped the next seven games.
Murray definitely let his irritation get the best of him, while Nishikori remained focused, throwing in a number of drop-shot winners and returning serve beautifully, smacking 48 winners to Murray’s 29.
“It was tough to stay calm,” Nishikori said. “He started very well in the beginning. There were a lot of ups and downs in the match. But I’m very happy to win.”
Murray downplayed any disappointment over the way his brilliant summer ended after compiling a 26-1 record since the beginning of the Queen’s Club tournament in London. He had reached a career best seven straight finals since April.
“I have not let anyone down, I tried my best,” Murray said. “I fought as hard as I could with what I had today. I didn’t let anyone down. Certainly not myself. I pushed myself as hard as I could over the last few months and I’m very proud of how I have done.”
He did admit that “there’s just a few things I could do differently next time,” and I would imagine that would be not to lose his cool and/or let the distractions get the best of him. Nishikori played sharp tennis and executed brilliantly to beat Murray to advance to only his second Grand Slam semifinal.
But the 29-year-old Murray had too much on the line to let the distractions impact his as they did.
Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori