Japan’s finest, Nishikori, picked up his biggest win since the US Open of 2014, by beating Murray in a near four hour marathon under the closed roof of Arthur Ashe stadium.
It is a milestone win for the No.6 seed as he was on a 16-match losing streak against Top 4 opposition dating back to when he beat World No.1 Novak Djokovic in his first Grand Slam semi-final two years ago. Nishikori had a lot to prove coming into this match. Everyone recognised his star quality and his fabulous record in the matches he is expected to win, but question marks still remained over whether he could beat the very best on a regular basis.
Murray began the match in terrific form. He struck the ball well and eased through a deserved 6-1 set, but the closing of the roof in the second set changed his fortunes considerably. Murray became frustrated with the new conditions under the new state-of-the-art roof on Ashe. His frustrations grew further as Nishikori pegged him back on three service break leads in the second set and the Japanese No.1 eventually levelled the contest.
Murray’s mindset took a massive turn for the worse in the fourth set when the umpire stopped a point he was in control of because of the sound emitting from a malfunctioning sound system. The Briton never really recovered from that moment, his focus was even jolted by the appearance of a butterfly on court, which further suggests that Murray’s concentration was not always at it’s best – it was one of those days.
The closing of the roof had the opposite effect on Nishikori. It gave him the confidence to attack his shots and to step inside the baseline more frequently. That had a knock-on effect on Murray, who had to adjust to the difference of ball striking coming from the other side of the net.
It was a mouthwatering prospect to see Nishikori and Murray move into a deciding set. Nishikori has one of the best five set records on tour, while Murray had won 16 of his last 18 deciding fifth sets, with his only losses coming to Novak Djokovic.
Murray kept in touch with Nishikori in the fifth set after falling down a break of serve twice but rebounding immediately – the third break turned out to be terminal as Nishikori held his nerve and won one of the most important matches of his tennis career to date.
The 17 service breaks suggested two things: the match had many momentum switches, but it also showed that the control of the second serve would be key in this match. Neither player excels in that department but Nishikori held his nerve most when it mattered most.
Murray missed out on making four Grand Slam finals in the same year when in reality it was a very achievable goal in retrospect. He will reflect on a very positive summer by winning Wimbledon and Olympic gold and now rest before the upcoming Davis Cup tie in Glasgow.
It is a massive disappointment for the Briton but if anyone can pick themselves up from that, it is Murray, who will lead the GB Davis Cup team in a matter of days in the semi-final against Argentina.
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