6-1 in the first set. Andy Murray has not done much wrong this season, and it shows. He made the finals of every Grand Slam going into the US Open, winning one. Then, he followed that up with Olympic Gold, his second in a row. His shot-making was perfect, his footwork was swift, his fitness at an all-time high.
But it was Andy Murray on the losing end today, with Kei Nishikori winning1-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.
Most watchers would likely have called Murray to win this one given his extensively dominant record against Kei Nishikori, but what we saw tonight was a disturbed Murray and a Nishikori who, as always, held his cool. That led to a five-set win for the Japanese ace, who put in spirited play despite having started off at a disadvantage.
Murray began the match up a set and a break, having won the first 6-1. With a good momentum going, the Scot saw his progress hampered by some extremely untimely rain (for him), and called immediately for the newly-inaugurated roof on Arthur Ashe to be drawn. He had taken only 35 minutes to close out the first set, and if that had been any indication, Murray was to win this one in straight sets.
The roof was drawn, but not before bringing problems, Murray said. He was bothered by the noise the roof generated, and in the third game of the second set, leading Nishikori, Murray returned to a relentless attack from the Japanese player.
He has been one of the most reserved players on the circuit, and unlike many of his higher-ranked peers, Nishikori has the capability to hold his nerve in the most taxing situations. He did so in spades today, pulling out every trick and making Murray work for every single point.
No Nadal, but lots of noise
It was not any player prone to shouting on court here today, but a malfunctioning sound system that caused Murray serious problems. Just as Murray was about to break Nishikori, the system, with a life of its own, let out a noise that broke Murray’s concentration. He would later complain about it, but the damage was done. Nishikori crawled back in mammoth fashion for a 6-4 win.
Losing his momentum, Murray also screamed at himself – as he is wont do to in anger, adding to the fervour in the stadium. It also led him to commit some unnecessary errors, netting routine shots that on a good day, one would never have expected Andy Murray to miss.
Nishikori won the second set 6-4 with some brilliant backhands and a cool, calm demeanour that has stood him in good stead in his career and did so particularly in this match.
He played well in the next set, but an agitated Murray translated his anger into aggression in his gameplay. That said, it was not just Murray’s elevated gameplay but errors and a couple of double faults from Nishikori that won him that set, with the Japanese player now turning on the offense.
Angry with the noise, Murray had clearly lost focus when stadium sound interrupted him.
When it rains, it pours
The roof got pulled on over court early on because of the drops on court, but it stayed there despite the fact that the skies would go on to clear up quickly. That bothered Murray, who told reporters “they said if the weather improved, the roof would come off.” It’s unclear what about the roof bothered Murray so, but his gameplay just was not as dominant once it came on.
Was the closed atmosphere conducive to Murray losing concentration with echoing noise? One cannot say, but perhaps that could be the case. As it remains, that roof did not go back in – but it worked brilliantly for Nishikori.
The butterfly effect
Well, more accurately, it was a moth. In the fifth set, back to the wall, Murray saw the winged insect circle him and land on the net. That only served to precipitate the Meltdown of Murray, who then got broken back by Nishikori in the final set.
A thwack of the racquet meant the end of life for that butterfly, which was picked up by a ball boy and, according to the USTA, ‘released outside the stadium.’ Bet he didn’t think ‘collecting carcasses’ was in his job description!
The Scot also gave good backing to the Butterfly Effect; if a butterfly flaps its wings at any specific moment in time, it could change the outcome of anything that happens in the world.