- US Open
The return of 'Sour Scot' Andy Murray
It's not easy being Stanislas Wawrinka.
Imagine being the second-best tennis player in all of Switzerland - only to find yourself eternally overshadowed by perhaps the greatest player in the history of the sport.
This US Open is his 35th grand slam, but it's the first time Wawrinka has progressed further than Roger Federer. Think about how liberating that must feel. Wawrinka, who trails Federer in grand slam singles titles 17-0, is playing the best tennis of his 28-year-old life. His reward? A Thursday quarter-final matchup with defending US Open champion Andy Murray.
"It feels amazing for sure, especially here," Wawrinka said in his on-court interview. "Especially as the defending champion, to beat him in three sets is just amazing."
On this day, the newly mature, serene and copacetic Murray was not in evidence. When his forehand was too forceful and sailed long to give Wawrinka the first set, Murray screamed and smashed his racquet. Still hot by the time he reached the changeover chair, the racquet probably sustained a concussion when he cracked it again. Murray's body language was awful, and the self-destructive chatter toward his box escalated as he fell deeper and deeper into the quagmire.
It looked like sour Scot, circa 2009, when Murray couldn't stop the negative thinking, and not the two-time major champion and Olympic gold medalist who has blossomed under coach Ivan Lendl.
Afterward, Murray seemed to admit that his recent Wimbledon title might have been a factor in his loss. He was asked in his post-match news conference if that long-elusive championship had affected his focus.
"It's not so much about focus," Murray said. "When you work hard for something for a lot of years, you know, it's going to take a bit of time to really fire yourself up and get yourself training, you know, 110 percent.
"You know, that's something that I think is kind of natural after what happened at Wimbledon. But I got here. I mean, I have been here nearly three weeks now. I practiced a lot and played quite a lot of matches as well. So I gave myself a chance to do well because I prepared properly."
But maybe, in retrospect, he wasn't completely fired up.
Wawrinka served wonderfully. He did not face a break point in the match. Murray, meanwhile, saw his serve broken seven times.
The Swiss player stroked 45 winners, compared to just 15 for Murray.
Remember, Murray had reached the final of the past four majors he had played and was looking for his third consecutive semi-final berth at the US Open.
On match point, with an almost-full Arthur Ashe Stadium, Murray sent a second serve into the net and walked sluggishly to congratulate his opponent. Wawrinka, delighted, accepted.
Wawrinka was supremely poised throughout and kept whipping his elegant one-handed backhand wherever he wanted it.
It was his career-best seventh win over a top-10 player this year.
The year started with some excruciating pain. Wawrinka took Djokovic to five sets and lost 12-10 in the fifth in the fourth round of the Australian Open in a match that ran 5 hours, 2 minutes. It was the best match Wawrinka had ever played, but it left him crushed. After three days of feeling sorry for himself, however, he emerged a stronger player.
He reached back-to-back finals during the clay season and got to the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, losing to eventual champion Rafael Nadal. He lost in the first round of Wimbledon and, after falling in two of three hard-court matches in Montreal and Cincinnati, came into this tournament without a whiff of momentum.
Wawrinka quietly reached the fourth round, where it was presumed he would lose to No. 5 seed Tomas Berdych. But when they reached a third-set tiebreaker, he took it to the Czech Republic star. Wawrinka won in four sets and forced a matchup with Murray, against whom he had a reasonable 5-8 head-to-head record.
One of those was their only previous meeting in 2013, in the Monte Carlo round of 16, when Wawrinka tagged him 6-1, 6-2. Three years ago at the US Open, Wawrinka beat Murray in four sets. This after Murray had thumped him in straight sets two years earlier in New York.
The turning point today? Wawrinka couldn't convert his first five set points, but when Murray's forehand was long, he won the frame.
"It was much better for confidence the rest of the match," Wawrinka said. "It made me want to take the match and not let him get back."
What was he thinking as he closed in on the biggest win of his career?
"Too much things," he said laughing.
Wawrinka could afford to smile. He was headed for the shower and said he was going to watch the Djokovic-Youzhny match on television. No matter what happens the rest of the way, Wawrinka is still ahead of the game.
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