Andy Murray Stunned: Rafael Nadal Regains No. 2

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Andy Murray Stunned: Rafael Nadal Regains No. 2
(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

In the biggest upset of the U.S. Open, No. 17 Marin Cilic from Croatia stunned No. 2 seed Andy Murray in straight sets, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2, in a little over two hours.

No tennis experts had predicted this outcome, not even remotely.

Murray was lauded as one of the title contenders; in fact, second after No. 1 Roger Federer.

This loss ended Murray and Britain's hope to see a Grand Slam title in 2009.

Murray's world wide fans were shell-shocked at the outcome of the match, and they are mourning over this loss. Their hopes of seeing Murray at the top of the rankings have been shattered, at least for this year. Dark clouds and utter blankness have been passing through their minds. I offer my commiseration to Murray fans.

Having previously defeated him on all three surfaces, Murray appeared to have taken Cilic for granted.

Some of the obvious questions that come to my mind are, "Did Murray come to the court without a game plan, only to be butchered by the aggressionof the up-and-comer, Cilic? If Murray had a game plan, how did he fail to execute it? OK, Game Plan A did not have an answer to Cilic's ultra-aggressiveness at its best form; did Murray have a Game Plan B? Was he suffering from any ailment? Did he have any other excuses?"

"I have had a problem with the wrist for a week or so but regardless I played poorly," Murray said.

Is that the sole reason Murray lost? Or, is it Murray's defensive style to be blamed for the loss? Or, perhaps it is Cilic's lights out play?

Let me continue with the match.

Right from the beginning, the Scot quickly resorted to his characteristic defensive style of play that allowed Cilic to go for all-out offensive, which bore fruit for the Croat.

Murray's service was lacking its usual effectiveness, and his return of service was far below par (for him) throughout the match. 

The Scot appeared to be holding just fine until five-all in the first set. Had he been able to capitalize on one of the four break opportunities in the first set, the match would probably have been played on different terms. In the 10th game alone, Murray squandered two set points.

Once Cilic won the first set, he raised his game to another level, going fearlessly for winners every time. In that momentum swing, the Croat won six consecutive games to lead 4-0 in the second set, breaking Murray twice. 

"Saving the two set points was the turning point,'' Cilic said. "That was relief for me and helped me get more into the game and I played really well, and played well tactically."

The crowd in the Arthur Ashe disappointingly stayed mute except an occasional "Come on, Andy," hoping for Murray's comeback but to no avail.

Murray did not have an answer to the Croat's big serve. Although on the scoreboard, Cilic had only 52 percent first serves in play to Murray's 65 percent, Cilic aced Murray twice as many times (10-5) and won 79 percent of the points on his first serve to Murray's 65 percent. 

"I returned poorly and he served well, and, you know, that was really the difference," Murray said. 

"I felt like in the first set, you know, when I was getting into the rallies I was able to move him around and have my chances. And then, you know, once he got the first set, he started serving well and started playing really aggressive. He was shanking a lot of forehands in the first set.  

"Then in the second he started dropping in, and then he started hitting the ball very clean after that and dictated all of the points."

The 20-year old Croat's forehand shots were extremely lethal, and they unerringly painted the corners and nailed shots down the line, barely missing any. Murray watched being dismantled.

As the match progressed, the Scot looked more and more helpless, moving closer to his security zone of defense, but that usually impenetrable fortress looked too porous for the Croat's relentless forehand that knew no stoppage. 

"I didn't find a way to get myself into the match. There (were) very few long rallies after the first set, and normally, you know, I'm able to get myself into rallies," assessed Murray.

The third set followed almost the same pattern as the second. Murray could not hold his serve in the first and seventh games.

While Murray was too content to stay in rallies and hardly made any effort to hit winners, Cilic continued to pound the Scot in all departments.

Cilic broke Murray in the third set with a backhand, down-the-line winner. The Croat served out the match with the same big forehand winner in the corner.

The point is, Cilic always went for winners, and that won him the match.

By the end of the match, Cilic hit almost three times as many winners as Murray did, 35-13. This statistic pretty much sums up the match.

 

EFFECTS:

1. We may be blessed with another Federer-Nadal final. One can hope, though it looks unlikely.  Federer is almost certain to end the year with his No. 1 ranking.

2. Murray's loss increases Juan Martin del Potro's chances to reach the final and have a shot at the title. The same could be said about Cilic and Fernando Gonzalez, who defeated Jo Wilfried-Tsonga in a closely contested four-set match, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4.

3. Murray's No. 2 ranking lasted for two weeks, just one tournament. Rafael Nadal reclaims his No. 2 after his win over Gael Monfils, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.

When the ranking points are calibrated on the day after the U.S. Open final, Murray will have 8,390 points, and Nadal, assuming he falls in the quarterfinal, will have 8,485 points. (By the way, I was earlier than AP and ATP to put this number out).

4. Cilic will be a household name in Britain, if he has not been already. He could rise to Top Ten before the end of the year.

5. Murray will have to wait until Australian Open 2010 to have another shot at a Slam. Till then, he will have to suffer as being a Slam-less talented player.

6. Novak Djokovic will be in a position to regain his No. 3 ranking. Actually, by October 19, Djokovic is more or less guaranteed to become No. 3 when Madrid points are calibrated. Murray is very likely to go back to his No. 4 on that date.

Djokovic and Murray will switch their rankings between No. 3 and No. 4 throughout the rest of the season and battle out their year-end rankings at the World Championship (Masters Cup).  This is a likely future scenario to watch out for.

If you can think of other effects, please post them in your comments.

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