Defending champ stumbles early, finishes strong
NEW YORK — Andy Murray stumbled at the end of the first set, dropping four points in a row. He faltered for a fleeting moment at the end of the second set, too, missing a simple volley after his opponent’s between-the-legs shot.
What truly mattered most in Murray’s fourth-round match at the U.S. Open, of course, was the ultimate result, and the defending champion wound up beating 65th-ranked Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 on a windy Tuesday night.
The third-seeded Murray reached the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows for the third consecutive year.
“Might not be that easy to see from the side, but in the court, there was a strong breeze. We were both struggling with the timing, but I thought we played some entertaining points,” Murray said. “Sometimes when it’s very breezy like that, you can get some fun points.”
He was 0-4 in Grand Slam finals until his title at last year’s U.S. Open. He added a second major championship this July by becoming the first British man since 1936 to win Wimbledon.
Now Murray will play No. 9 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, who reached his second U.S. Open quarterfinal by eliminating No. 5 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (6), 6-2.
Istomin was making his debut in the fourth round at a major tournament Tuesday, and trying to become the first player from his country to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal. His power-based game occasionally gave Murray fits under the lights in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Notably, Murray came apart after leading 5-3 in the opening-set tiebreaker.
First, Istomin hit a forehand winner to close a 27-shot exchange. Then Murray, distracted before his service toss by a shout from the stands, double-faulted. A forehand into the net by Murray gave Istomin a set point. And Murray ended the set by pushing a backhand wide on a 12-stroke point.
Istomin shook his racket and screamed, while the folks sitting in his guest box rose to their feet, yelling right back at him.
Most of the second set was no cause for celebration, however. Istomin, wearing yellow-framed eyeglasses, got broken right away and trailed 3-0 after 12 minutes.
A highlight-worthy point came when Murray tried to even the match at a set apiece while serving at 5-1 in the second. With both men near the net, Murray stretched to hit a lob volley that sent Istomin racing back to the baseline. His back to the court, Istomin smacked a no-look shot through his legs. The ball made it across the net, but weakly, and Murray should have been able to respond with an easy, tap-in volley. Instead, he flubbed it, dumping the ball in the net to make the game score 15-30, and immediately put his hand to his face.
Not to worry, though. Murray won the next three points to take that set.
There was more shakiness from Murray in the third set, in which he went up a break, only to lose serve to make it 3-all.
But he broke right back for a 4-3 edge, and was back on his way to a victory that improved his record over his last five Grand Slam tournaments to 30-2.
Earlier, Serena Williams was close to perfect in a 6-0, 6-0 win over 18th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro in the women’s singles quarterfinals.
“When you play against Serena,” Suarez Navarro said, “you know these things can happen.”
Williams won 53 of 71 points and dominated pretty much every statistical category. The first set took all of 19 minutes. The second was slower, lasting 33 minutes, but no less lopsided.
Williams was asked whether she’d describe her performance as close to flawless.
“Of course not,” the defending champion said with a laugh. “I played good, though. I played really good. I was just more focused than anything. You know, I like to believe there is room for improvement.”
No. 9 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland reached his second men’s quarterfinal by beating No. 5 Tomas Berdych, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (6), 6-2.
In the afternoon, top-seeded Novak Djokovic won 45 of 53 service points while eliminating 43rd-ranked Marcel Granollers 6-3, 6-0, 6-0 in 79 minutes.
Fifth-seeded Li Na needed nearly 2½ hours to get past 24th-seeded Ekaterina Makarova of Russia 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2.
Second-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus defeated 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic in the conclusion of a matche postponed from Monday because of rain. Azarenka got off to a slow start, but eventually got going and beat the 13th-seeded Ivanovic 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a topsy-turvy match with a combined 16 service breaks and 17 double-faults.
“I think,” two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka said, “we’re just great returners.”