In a test between the tournament's No. 8 and No. 9 seeds, Monday's match guaranteed a hotly contested battle and it lived up to the hype. Games were tight, deuces were popular and every strong coupling of shots by one tennis star was matched by the other.
But when Murray and Tsonga got deep into their sets and neither was budging, it was the eighth-seeded Murray who burst with energy and won the crucial points by keeping his opponent out of place with pace and accuracy. Every set came down to a few key winners, and Murray was on the winning side of those points.
The celebration will be short-lived for Murray, as ESPN Tennis notes he faces top-seeded Novak Djokovic next:
Andy Murray sets up a quarterfinal meeting with Novak Djokovic. This will mark the 21st time the two men have met in an @ATPWorldTour event.— ESPNTennis (@ESPNTennis) September 1, 2014
The British star now holds a commanding 10-2 lead in head-to-head battles with the Frenchman, avenging his quarterfinal defeat at the Toronto Masters this summer. He has struggled to make a Grand Slam final run in 2014 while going through a coaching change, but he explained how he could come out on top in Monday's match, via The Guardian's Kevin Mitchell:
I just try to win the match. It’s not really about how you play because sometimes you can play really good tennis and lose – I’m more interested in trying to win the match against Jo, playing the right tactics to give myself the best chance of doing that and see what happens.
I’ve beaten many top 10 players over the course of my career in these events and I’m sure it will happen again, and happen soon.
Murray came out eager to make sure that it wouldn't just happen soon, but that it would happen on Monday afternoon.
He held his serves early on, and his mix of power and placement proved too much for Tsonga to handle in the early stretches.
But every time Murray held his serve, Tsonga would hold right back. Although he had to work for them and battle through some long deuces, the Frenchman hung on—but he couldn't hang on forever.
Tied 5-5, the British favorite broke Tsonga's serve for the first time at a crucial position. Up a game with the chance to wrap up the set, Murray smashed a volley to win the set, as U.S. Open captured:
Murray couldn't keep up this strategy forever. Not after being broken early in the second set, which put him down 3-1 and forced him to make a surge to avoid letting his opponent back into the match.
He did just that, breaking one of Tsonga's serves and another late in the second set as the Frenchman served with a chance to force a tiebreak. Instead, Murray forced a deuce and won on his second set point of the game.
Tsonga was fighting and fighting to get back into the match, but every rally he made was met by one even more impressive from his opponent. Shots like the one The New York Times' Christopher Clarey observed just didn't work:
Just a hunch but drop shotting Andy Murray on big points on a hardcourt may not be a killer idea— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) September 1, 2014
Going down two sets to none is an apt time for overmatched opponents to simply keel over, but that wasn't the case on Monday. Facing a top-10 opponent who had his fair share of success in the opening sets, Murray had his hands full down the stretch.
Tsonga made that clear early on in the third set—rather, Murray made it clear for him. He double-faulted away his opening serve, then lost the second game on an unforced error.
Down 2-0 in the third set and on the verge of conceding all hopes of winning the set, Murray needed a jolt and got it.
Tsonga took his opponent's serve to five deuces before Murray held on, then Murray got back into the set by breaking Tsonga's serve with the Frenchman hitting four straight errors. It began unraveling for Tsonga after that, with Murray re-claiming an advantage over the set.
The No. 9 seed got one last chance to serve and save the match, but was broken one final time by Murray to wrap things up.
Adidas UK congratulated its athlete:
Tsonga has struggled to make it deep in a Grand Slam this year, and Monday's defeat continues a painful trend for him. He exited each Grand Slam this year in the fourth round.
It might look to be just business as usual for Murray, as he has advanced to a Grand Slam quarterfinal for the sixth straight event, and the 15th consecutive Slam in which he's participated. But there is no doubt that getting the monkey off his back of a top-10 victory feels nice for Murray, and doing so in such a dominating fashion.
All Murray has to do is look ahead of him to realize why he needs to keep up this momentum. He will move on to face Djokovic in the quarterfinals, who has failed to lose a set so far at Flushing Meadows.
It will require a world-class performance for Murray to even force five full sets, but he should be just fine if he performs like he did against Tsonga on Monday.