Two months ago, Andy Murray was on top of the world after finally capturing the Wimbledon title that he had been under so much pressure to win.
But the cruelest thing about sport is that it just keeps moving.
On Thursday, he was brought crashing back to earth when he lost in straight sets (6-4, 6-3, 6-2) to the inspired No. 9-seed, Stanislas Wawrinka, in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open.
It wasn't a great day for Murray or his racket.
It capped off a disappointing 2013 U.S. Open Series—a part of the season that used to be one of Murray's best—that included straight-set losses to No. 38 Ernests Gulbis in the round of 16 of the Rogers Cup and to No. 6 Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals of the Western & Southern Open.
Murray admitted, via the official U.S. Open website, in a post-match press conference, that he had a hard time getting motivated again after his Wimbledon win.
"You know, when you work hard for something for a lot of years...it's going to take a bit of time to really fire yourself up and get yourself training...110 percent," he told reporters. "[T]hat's something that I think is kind of natural after what happened at Wimbledon."
Andy in press within two minutes of walking off court. Barely audible. Disappointed for sure but he'll get over it— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) September 5, 2013
We've come accustomed to an almost unthinkable level of consistency from the top players in the men's game. Roger Federer started it, of course, when he made 23 straight Grand Slam semifinals (including 20 appearances in finals in that stretch). In fact, he went nine straight years without losing before the quarterfinals of a major, a streak that was only broken earlier this summer at Wimbledon.
Though injuries and surface changes sometimes stop him, it's always a shock if Rafael Nadal loses before a final, and Novak Djokovic hasn't lost before the semifinals at a Grand Slam since the 2010 Wimbledon.
Murray has always been considered the "fourth" of the Big Four, but he has been pretty consistent himself—he hadn't lost before the semifinals of a non-French Open Grand Slam since the 2010 U.S. Open (where, coincidentally, he lost to Wawrinka in the third round).
His breakthrough in the past 14 months—winning gold at the Olympics, finally winning a slam at the 2012 U.S. Open and capturing Wimbledon earlier this year—has certainly increased the expectations surrounding him.
But on Thursday, as he attempted to defend a Grand Slam for the first time in his career, Murray got a dose of just how difficult it is to remain at the top of the game.
"Well, I don't know if I'm meant to win every Grand Slam I play or be in the final," he said. "It's just very, very difficult just now."
It must be said that although Murray didn't look anywhere close to the Wimbledon champion that he is, he faced an extremely in-form opponent in Wawrinka on Thursday.
The often-overlooked Swiss, who has been somewhat stuck in Federer's massive shadow, came out firing on all cylinders. He didn't face a break point, he broke Murray four times and his phenomenal one-handed backhand was by far the best shot on the court.
But Murray has formed a reputation as a guy who enjoys coming back from the brink and figuring out how to win matches when he is playing far from his best. On Thursday, however, that was far from the case.
He smashed his racket, berated himself on changeovers and rolled his eyes constantly. And while these are all fairly common occurrences, there was something missing from Murray all day—besides his backhand, that is. He never seemed to care to fight.
In all the time I've been watching this match (not long) Murray's not clutched anything in agony. Clearly something's wrong.— Jenny Daly (@jennybdaly) September 5, 2013
"It was a new experience for me and something that was good to go through, and I will learn from that for next time," Murray said about defending his major title.
Murray will probably be back in the winner's circle again, but this match is certainly one he's going to want to forget as quickly as possible.
Still, he was able to keep perspective on just how good his season has been when compared to those before it.
"If someone told me before the U.S. Open last year I would have been here as defending champion having won Wimbledon and Olympic gold, I would have taken that 100 percent," he said. "So I'm disappointed, but, you know, the year as a whole has been a good one."
It's been an up-and-down summer for the Brit, but given the highs, he'll certainly take the lows. And now, perhaps sooner than he had hoped, he gets a little bit of time to rest.