Stanislas Wawrinka stuns defending champ Andy Murray in straight sets
The roof caved in on defending U.S. Open champion Andy Murray Thursday. Even though there is no roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium, won't be for at least three years, and there wasn't a need for cover under clear, sunny skies.
For a fact, though, high expectations for the third-seeded Murray came crashing down in a straight-sets quarterfinal loss to ninth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka, who has spent his career as Switzerland's second-best tennis player.
He is no Roger Federer. At 28, Wawrinka is playing in his 35th major tournament without ever having gotten beyond the quarters before. He is a solid pro, often flirting with a top 10 ranking -- he currently is No. 10 -- but decidedly and constantly in the shadow of the sport's perennial champs.
"In tennis, as you know," Wawrinka said, "if you are not Roger or Rafa or Djokovic or Andy now, you don't win so many tournaments. But you need to take the positive of the loss and go back to work and still play. Because if when you lost, that kills you, then it's tough to play tennis. It's that simple.''
On Thursday, despite tricky winds, it was Wawrinka who showed no lack of moxie in dismantling Murray, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. It was Wawrinka, with a steady forehand and classic, sweeping one-handed backhand, who played with verve while Murray's tennis -- so often clinically alive -- often matched his between-points demeanor of frowning, gesturing vexation.
Murray sulked and brooded, producing only 15 winners compared with Wawrinka's 45. Among the game's best service returners, Murray was unable to conjure even a single break-point opportunity against Wawrinka.
"He just hit the ball extremely well," Murray said, "so it was difficult to dictate too many of the points. I thought he played great. He hit big shots. He passed extremely well. He hit a lot of lines on big points. He served well. That was it."
Wawrinka appeared at his post-match interview grinning sheepishly, saying that "to win in three sets against the defending champion is just amazing." Serving at match point, "too much things" were in his head, he said, but he proceeded to pound a service winner that Murray weakly sent into the net.
"I feel great, that's for sure," Wawrinka said. "Normally, I can be a little bit nervous and I can lose a few games because of that, but today I was just focused on my game.
"It was really windy, not easy condition, but my plan was to push him to be aggressive because I know Andy can be a little bit too defensive. I like it when he's far back from the baseline, and today I did that well."
The whole affair could be summed up -- and certainly turned -- with the match's 10th game. After each man had kept a firm grip on his serve through nine, with Murray serving for a 5-5 tie, they played a lengthy, tightrope-walking 22 points. They went to deuce eight times, with Murray squandering three game points and Wawrinka needing the ad six times before finally breaking to secure the set.
Murray's self-critical theatrics -- always so close to the surface -- already were on full display. He slapped his forehead three times after a netted forehand, viciously swung his racket at air after a clean Wawrinka winner caught him flat-footed, smacked his racket on the court after sending a forehand long to end the first set.
From there, Wawrinka never tapped on the brakes, pressuring Murray with the occasional crisp volley and with that sweeping one-hand backhand. In the end, Murray became the fourth former Open champ to be eliminated from this year's tournament, following Juan Martin del Potro (2009), Lleyton Hewitt (2001) and Federer (2004-08) out the door.
"I have played my best tennis in the Slams the last two, three years," Murray said. "I mean, I lost today in straight sets, so that's disappointing. I would have liked to have gone further.
"But look, I can't complain. If someone told me before the U.S. Open last year that I would have been here as defending champion, having won Wimbledon and Olympic gold, I would have taken that 100 percent."
As for Wawrinka, "today for sure is my moment."