Andy Murray’s bid for a first Grand Slam title came to an end tonight after an extraordinary match with Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka at Flushing Meadows.
Murray took the opening set in a tie-break but Wawrinka hit back to complete a 6-7 (3/7) 7-6 (7/4) 6-3 6-3 victory in three hours and 56 minutes.
The match featured 13 breaks of serve and almost as many breaks in play for medical treatment to both players before Wawrinka booked his place in the fourth round.
Murray had a 5-3 career record against Wawrinka coming into the match, including a memorable five-set victory at Wimbledon last year in the first full match to be played under the Centre Court roof.
And the fourth seed also beat the world number 27 in straight sets at Flushing Meadows in 2008, the Scot winning 6-1 6-3 6-3 on his way to the final.
But it was Wawrinka who made the best start on the Louis Armstrong court, saving four break points in a 12-minute third game before breaking Murray in the next to move 3-1 ahead.
Wawrinka served for the set at 5-3 and was 30-0 up before Murray hit back to recover the break, the set eventually going to a tie-break.
There was a moment of controversy on the third point when a Murray backhand hit the top of the net. Wawrinka shouted ’Allez’, presumably thinking he had won the point, but the ball dropped in and after Wawrinka returned it, Murray dumped his next shot into the net.
The Scot was furious and asked umpire Steve Ullrich: “It’s okay for him to scream ’Allez’ when the ball has not crossed the net?’, to which Ullrich replied: ”As long as the ball is going towards him.“
Murray was not best pleased with that explanation but retained his composure to take the tie-break 7-3 after one hour and 10 minutes.
The momentum looked to have firmly switched in Murray’s favour and it was no surprise when he broke in Wawrinka’s first service game of the second set.
A forehand winner set up three break points and the British number one took the first of them in style, drawing Wawrinka into the net and effortlessly flicking a backhand lob over his stranded opponent.
However, Murray was still not playing at his best consistently – unforced errors often leaving the 23-year-old screaming at himself at the back of the court – and Wawrinka broke back to recover from 3-0 down to 3-3.
Murray gave himself the chance to serve for the set with another break in the eighth game, but promptly lost his serve again and another tie-break was required.
This time it was Wawrinka who jumped out to an early lead as two Murray forehands drifted long, the 25th seed eventually taking it 7-4 to level the match after two hours and 18 minutes.
Murray broke serve in the opening game of the third set but then lost the next four games in a row and was spending more time complaining to himself and anyone within earshot than playing tennis.
A strange match then took another twist as Murray called for the trainer at 4-1 down and received a brief massage to his left thigh before continuing, only for Wawrinka to then need a full medical timeout in the next game for treatment to his right thigh after lunging for a backhand.
The Swiss player returned to the court with his thigh heavily bandaged and, after Murray had won the point he needed to hold serve, showed few ill-effects as he did likewise to lead 5-2.
That brought another visit from the trainer for treatment to Wawrinka’s other thigh, but it was Murray who was looking in deeper trouble when Wawrinka served out to take the set 6-3 and a two-sets-to-one lead after three hours and six minutes.
The players exchanged breaks of serve – the 10th and 11th of the match – at the start of the fourth set, before Wawrinka broke again in the fifth game for a 3-2 lead.
Murray then bravely saved three more break points in the seventh game to stay in touch, before receiving more treatment at the change of ends, this time to his neck.
But when he again faced break points, and therefore match points in the ninth game, he was unable to hang on and Wawrinka completed a remarkable win in just under four hours.