By Howard Fendrich
NEW YORK: The earliest real signs of trouble for Andy Murray came in the 10th game of his U.S. Open quarterfinal. For 22 points stretched over 15 excruciating minutes Thursday, Murray’s body language was as poor as his play.
When the 2012 champion pushed a simple forehand into the net, he smacked his palm against his forehead, once, twice, three times. When he left a similarly routine forehand too low, he mocked his footwork by pressing one shoe atop the other. When he sailed a later forehand long, he rolled his eyes and muttered. When he delivered his second double-fault, he swiped the ground with his racket.
And when he rushed yet another forehand on break point No. 6 of that key game — the ball drifting long to cede a set to his far-less-accomplished opponent, ninth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka — Murray cracked his racket on the court. Not satisfied, he trudged to his changeover chair and whacked the racket again, mangling the frame.
Trying to defend a Grand Slam title for the first time, and not quite two months removed from his historic Wimbledon championship, Murray bowed out quickly, if not quietly, at Flushing Meadows, losing 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 to Wawrinka in a result that was surprising both because of who won and by how much.
“I have had a good run the last couple of years,” said the third-seeded Murray, who shook his hands in front of his face and screamed after dropping the second set. “It’s a shame I had to play a bad match today.”
A terrible match, truthfully.
He managed only 15 winners, 30 fewer than Wawrinka. He tapped in second serves as slow as 75 mph, allowing Wawrinka to hit four return winners and easily take control of countless other points. Murray, one of the sport’s top returners, never earned a single break point during any of Wawrinka’s 14 service games.
“I didn’t get into enough return games, which is disappointing for me,” said Murray, who had won 30 of his preceding 32 Grand Slam matches. “That’s normally something I do pretty well. I always give myself opportunities to break serve, and I didn’t today.”
Give Wawrinka credit — something Murray made sure to do.
Wawrinka reached his first career Grand Slam semifinal in his 35th appearance, at age 28. He also finally made it further at a major tournament than his Swiss Olympic teammate and good friend, Roger Federer, who lost in the fourth round and sent a congratulatory text to Wawrinka after his breakthrough victory.
“Today, for sure, it’s my moment,” Wawrinka said.
He did it with his fluid, one-handed backhand, and by taking full advantage of Murray’s mistakes, but also by playing an aggressive, attacking style. Wawrinka won nine out of 10 points when he serve-and-volleyed. He rushed the net in general, taking 31 out of 42 points when he moved forward. Most of all, he never allowed the occasion or the opportunity to overwhelm him in 23,000-capacity Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Asked what part of his performance made him the most proud, Wawrinka said: “How I was dealing with the pressure. Normally, I can be a little bit nervous and I can lose [a] few games because of that.”
In the semifinals, Wawrinka will face No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who defeated No. 21 Mikhail Youzhny 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-0 Thursday night. The other men’s semifinal Saturday will be No. 2 Rafael Nadal against No. 8 Richard Gasquet.
The women’s semifinals are today, with No. 1 Serena Williams vs. No. 5 Li Na, and No. 2 Victoria Azarenka vs. unseeded Flavia Pennetta. Williams owns 16 Grand Slam titles; the other women own three combined.
Djokovic is a six-time major champion, including at the 2011 U.S. Open, but he lost to Murray in the 2012 final at Flushing Meadows, then again in this July’s final at the All England Club. They appeared on course for a rematch in the semifinals this weekend, but Wawrinka put an end to that possibility.