No. 6 seed Kei Nishikori recorded his biggest win of 2016, upsetting No. 2 seed Andy Murray in their quarterfinal match on Wednesday, 1-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.
“It was tough to stay calm,” said Nishikori. “He started very well in the beginning, there were a lot of ups and downs in the match. But I’m very happy to win.”
The first set was one-way traffic for Murray, as Nishikori struggled to find the range on his shots. The No. 6 seed made 14 errors in seven games, and Murray went on a five-game run, breaking Nishikori twice and firing an ace on set point to take an early lead.
Two brief rain delays marked the second set by the time it had hit 3-3. When the players arrived on court once again, it was Nishikori who struck first. Serving at 4-5. the Brit let his guard down, committing a pair of ground-stroke errors and allowing the Japanese star to level the match.
Both players continued to display more impressive returns than serves in the third set, with half of the 10 games being punctuated by breaks of serve. Little separated Murray and Nishikori until 4-4, when the 2014 finalist hit four unforced errors from the baseline to gift Murray another break of serve. He wasted no time taking advantage of the opportunity, holding to love in the next game with a massive backhand winner to take a commanding lead.
But just when it appeared that Murray would run away with the match, his emotions got the better of him. The umpire’s decision to replay a point at 1-1 in the fourth set, with Murray holding break point on Nishikori's serve, due to a loud noise completely rattled Murray, leading him to express his frustration at the change of ends. Talking to himself and his team for the next several games, Murray’s inability to refocus allowed Nishikori to race through the next four games and send the match to a deciding set.
Nishikori twice went up a break in the fifth set, but Murray’s fighting spirit brought him back each time, leveling the match at 2-2 and again at 4-4. Undeterred, Nishikori gained a third break at 5-5, earning a break-point chance off a double fault from Murray and then converting on it with a stab volley winner. He held serve in the next game to move into the US Open semifinals for the second time in his career.
WHAT IT MEANS: With the win, Nishikori is now 5-0 against Top 10 players at the US Open. He also improved his head-to-head against Murray to 2-7. Nishikori moves into the second week of the US Open for the only second time since 2008. But having reached the final here two years ago, he clearly knows what it takes to make a run in New York.
Next up for him is the winner of the match between No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka and 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro. Wawrinka leads their head-to-head by 3-2, but Nishikori won their most recent match, this July in the quarterfinals of the Rogers Cup. Del Potro leads their head-to-head by 4-0, but they haven’t played since the 2012 London Olympics. Their lone outdoor hard-court match saw del Potro prevail in straight sets in the fourth round of the 2008 US Open.