Kei Nishikori has stunned Andy Murray, rallying from two sets to one down to win 1-6 6-4 4-6 6-1 7-5 in a dramatic four-hour tussle. The Japanese world No.7 snapped a 12-match losing run against top-two ranked opposition, with his last win of this magnitude coming two years ago against Novak Djokovic on his run to the US Open final.
Murray came into this match as men’s tennis’ in-form player, having won 26 out of his last 27 matches – including gold in Rio. And he had the perfect start, dictating play to race into a set and a break lead. But then came a 20-minute stoppage for a rain delay.
The whole complexion of the match changed. Out came a totally different Nishikori. He was playing so much more aggressively, finishing the match with 60 winners which is quite an achievement against one of the game’s great defenders. Nishikori also successfully used the drop shot regularly during the match.
Murray settled, took the third set and it appeared normal order had been restored. However, another turning point occurred at 1-1 in the fourth. The chair umpire stopped play mid-point because of a loud sound coming from a faulty digital audio processor. Murray let it distract him, losing seven games in a row and venting his frustration at his player’s box as well as tournament referee Wayne McKewen.
Murray admitted the rain delay was the bigger turning point, though.
“I think definitely under the roof, he was able to dictate more of the points, play a bit closer to the baseline than me and take the ball on a little more,” he said.
Nishikori will play two-time grand slam champion Stan Wawrinka after he beat Juan Martin Del Potro 7-6 4-6 6-3 6-2. Wawrinka hit 53 winners, including some of his trademark one-handed backhands and 10 aces. Wawrinka leads Nishikori 3-2 in past meetings but significantly, Nishikori did have a five-set win two years ago in their only contest in New York.
In the women’s quarterfinals, Serena Williams beat Simona Halep 6-2 4-6 6-3 as she closes in a record 23rd major title. Serena dropped her first set of the tournament after Halep fought off 12 break points and won a tug-of war 10th game, finally converting on a fifth-set point.
“I lost my rhythm a little in the second set and Simona kept playing really well, going for her shots,” Williams said.
“But I knew if I wanted to win this, I needed to step it up in the third set.”
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And she did, crushing some returns on her way to 3-1 lead. She never looked back.
She will play 10th-seed Karolina Pliskova in the semi-finals after the Czech crushed Ana Konjuh of Croatia 6-2 6-2 earlier in the day. The 6-foot-1 Pliskova dominated with her first serve, only dropping five points on serve all match while her 18-year-old opponent hit too many unforced errors and appeared nervous.