Andy Murray's dream season came to an end today in the hands of Kei Nishikori in a five-setter after he threw away the early advantage he opened up in the quarterfinal match. Serena Williams was tested for the first time in her quarterfinal against Simona Halep but she charged through the challenge.
Andy Murray had earlier claimed to be having sleepless nights against the Japanese World No. 7 ahead of their quarterfinal encounter. Murray had dominated the head-to-head record against Nishikori beating him seven times in eight meetings so far, and when the duo faced each other in the semis of the Rio Olympics, where the Brit defeated the Japanese star 6-1, 6-4. The only time Nishikori had defeated Murray was back in 2014 at the ATP World Tour Finals. Yet, Murray appeared to have a bit of prescience about how the night was going to end.
The match started out well enough for Murray as Nishikori was all over the place in the first set. Showing flashes of brilliance, the Japanese's game was littered with unforced errors as he gifted the first set to Murray 1-6.
However, things changed dramatically in the second set. The first half of the set, played in normal outdoors, saw Nishikori lose serve to go 2-3 but when the scores were 3-3 and 40-30 in favor of the Japanese, rains arrived. The roof was closed in anticipation of the drizzle building into something, but it was bright sunshine soon although the roof remained shut. Meanwhile, things had changed for the two men beneath the roof. Nishikori won that game and broke Murray to take the second set 6-4.
However, a return to his error-prone ways cost Nishikori the third set even as the opponents managed to break each other frequently. Despite winning the set 6-4, Murray was yet to find his rhythm and was merely coasting along – his serve was not booming, and his returns just less error-prone than Nishikori's.
That cost him dearly very soon. At 1-1 in the fourth, an electrical disturbance in her sound system forced the umpire to call for a replay. Losing the point, Murray lost his composure as well – he was angry at himself, the umpire and the world at large. Soon he was 1-3, 1-5 and 1-6 down.
Broken early in the fifth set to 0-2, Murray looked down and out. But he clawed his way back on the back of some errors from Nishikori to draw par at 2-2. But Murray double-faulted in the next to give a break to Nishikori to 2-3, but soon came back again to make it 4-4. At 5-5, when he needed to stay in the game the most, Murray double-faulted again – his second in the set and third overall – and Nishikori grabbed the chance to go up 6-5.
Serving for the match, the Japanese began with a doublefault of his own but managed to hold his nerves and win the match to enter the semifinal.
Nishikori said, “I tried to hit a little more drop shots than usual. I know he stays back. It worked really well.”
Murray said: “I wasn’t too disappointed. I’ve had a good few months. I’m sorry not to have won but there you go.”
Meanwhile, Serena Williams was tested for the first time at the Flushing Meadows this year. Her serve was broken for the first time in the tournament and she even lost a set, but eventually Serena defeated 2014 French Open runner-up and No. 5 seed Simona Halep 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 to reach the semi-finals.
After being at her dominant best with 6 aces and 3 breaks of serve in the first set, Serena could not bring herself to close out on the break points in the second set – she had 12 of them in the set and failed to convert even 1. Halep took that set 6-4.
But in the third, Serena broke Simona early on and wrapped up the set 6-3 to enter the semifinal.
Williams will play Czech 10th seed Karolina Pliskova in the semi-finals.
Update : Another dream run came to an and today as Juan Martin del Potro, who has breathed new life into his career and a Federer-less tennis over the summer, lost to Stan Wawrinka in a four-setter 6-7, 6-4, 3-6, 2-6.
Although del Potro took an early 3-0 and 4-1 lead in the first set, it was Wawrinka who caught the eye with his impressive winners crowded out, however, by numerous unforced errors. There was a minor scare when Stan called for the trainer at this point, but it was merely precautionary as he showed soon. Stan managed to draw par at 4-4 and enforced the tie-break despite some brilliant court coverage from the big Argentinian. Racing to a 3-0 lead in the tie-break, Stan managed to hold on and del Potro's netted forehand on set point gave him a 7-6 win.
The second set saw both neck-to-neck until midway - Stan banking on his backhand, while del Potro unleashed his fearsome forehand to the fullest. But del Potro broke the deadlock with a break to go 4-3 and took the second set.
The third set was poised on a balance as both held serves to love until 4-3, and then del Potro blinked first. Wawrinka took the break and raced to win the set 6-3.
It was Wawrinka all the way in the fourth as he took a 3-0 lead on the back of some lovely passing shots against a tired del Potro. Serving for the set at 5-2, Wawrinka brought up match point with a pin-point forehand. And then came the lovely Wawrinka backhand down the line to wrap up the proceedings at 6-2.
Asked what he did after that second set, Wawrinka said, "I tried to keep him playing more balls and kept the ball to his backhand".
Despite the loss, del Potro would be happy with the comeback he has scripted. The 2006 champion walked out of court amid a raucous applause and chants of his name from the sizeable Argentinian crowd wearing the blue and white.