No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic took a step closer to yet another U.S. Open final Wednesday night, disposing of No. 8 Andy Murray, 7-6, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4.
The two began with a pair of instant-classic sets but saw fatigue settle in as the clock ticked past midnight at Arthur Ashe Stadium. It seemed to affect Murray more, as he noticeably battled through back pain and saw his serve lose considerable spark as a result.
BBC and New York Times reporter Christopher Clarey had more on Murray:
Andy Murray says he did not injure himself but was feeling stiff in the hips and back late in the match #USOpen— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) September 4, 2014
Djokovic, who won as much because of his superior physical condition as his serving, summed up the draining battle in the post-match interview, via SNY.tv's Adam Zagoria:
'My thoughts are directed to sleeping right now.' Djokovic— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) September 4, 2014
The first set, in a preview of what was to come, was full of twists and turns.
Murray got off to a good start with an opening-game break, but things quickly went downhill when it was time for him to serve. Done in by an inability to get his first serve in and two double faults—including one on a game point—the Scot was broken on his first two service games, as Djokovic strolled to a 4-1 lead.
Tennis coach Brad Gilbert noted that his former pupil was being too passive with his second serve (assuming Muzzard is a reference to Murray):
Muzzard has to be. Way more bold on his 2nd serv hitting in the mid 70's will not get it done vs Djoker, who can hit. His as much as 116— Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnation) September 4, 2014
Down love-30 in his next service game and looking like he would fall behind 5-1, Murray was able to claw his way back into the game and the set after a few unforced errors from Djokovic reopened the door.
After it got to 4-4, the two played some thrilling back-and-forth tennis, both in terms of rallies and in games, displaying thunderous roars and emotions as explosive as their forehands:
It would eventually move to a tiebreak, where Djokovic grabbed control after Murray's third double fault and coasted to finish off the 73-minute set.
The second set was more of the same: two more breaks from each player, exhilarating rallies and a tiebreak that was completely one-sided. This time, though, the advantage went to Murray, who recovered nicely after letting a break set point slip away moments earlier.
Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times put it simply:
Brilliant start to the tiebreak by Andy Murray, 4-0. Balancing patience and opportunism well here. #usopen— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) September 4, 2014
As the clock struck midnight with nothing separating the two, it was clear we were in for a classic, as ESPN's Hannah Storm and Global Sports' Christopher Clarey noted:
Points won by Murray 87 Points won by Djokovic 87 Points won easily 0— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) September 4, 2014
The drama quickly subsided from there, however. Murray hit more winners in the third set, thanks to a forehand with the power of a certain green dinosaur:
Andy Murray's forehand tonight. pic.twitter.com/B7fkjSu8iK— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) September 4, 2014
But he also hit 14 unforced errors (to Djokovic's five) and continued to struggle with his serve, as the top seed notched two breaks and easily took the set in just 36 minutes.
The fourth set, at times, looked it was being played in mud. As Murray fought off injury woes, it looked like he could barely move, but Djoker couldn't take advantage and find the break.
Sports Illustrated's Courtney Nguyen summed up the set:
They’re not so much Jelly Legs as Stonehenge Legs at the moment.— Courtney Nguyen (@FortyDeuceTwits) September 4, 2014
After the two exchanged holds, Djokovic was able to push through and grab the break to win the match.
Saturday's semifinal may feature some extremely tired legs. No. 10 Kei Nishikori is coming off two straight five-set thrillers, while it undoubtedly took a lot of Djokovic's tank to dispose of Murray in a match that never felt like a quarterfinal.
Still, the world No. 1 has looked like just that, and after yet another memorable performance at Flushing Meadows, there is little doubt he'll return to the final for the fifth consecutive year.