As everyone in the media centre here at Flushing Meadows knows, there is nothing like a deadline to concentrate the mind.
Rain was forecast to start falling two hours after the start of Andy Murray's fourth-round match against Canada's Milos Raonic at the US Open last night. Exactly two hours later the Scot was walking off court after a hugely impressive 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 victory.
It was by some margin his best performance since he won Olympic gold and should put him in good heart for his quarter-final against Marin Cilic tomorrow [Wednesday]. It will be Murray's eighth consecutive appearance in the last eight of a Grand Slam tournament; the last time he failed to make the quarter-finals was here two years ago, when he lost to Stanislas Wawrinka in the third round.
Murray was at the top of his game throughout. The 25-year-old Scot did not have to defend a single break point throughout and gave almost nothing to Raonic. In the first two sets he made just six unforced errors. That figure had doubled by the end of the match as he relaxed a little in the third set, but by then the world No 4 was well on the way to victory.
What impressed most was the way that Murray handled Raonic's serve. The Maple Leaf Missile has one of the most feared serves in the business and at 21 is already joint third on the all-time list of fastest servers.
When Raonic hit six aces in his first three service games it seemed that Murray might be in for a long evening. Not a bit of it. Even though Raonic kept hammering serves at speeds of up to 140mph, Murray quickly got to grips with the challenge. Raonic served 14 aces, which is a modest total by his standards, while Murray forced 12 break points in the match and converted four of them.
Raonic, in contrast, barely got into Murray's service games. Murray dropped only nine points on his serve in the first two sets and Raonic did not take him to deuce until the second game of the third. The Canadian attacked the net when he could, but Murray repeatedly passed him. There were times when Raonic had a look on his face that combined disbelief and despair as almost every big shot that his opponent went for came off.
Murray said afterwards: “I used a lot of variation tonight. Milos has got a huge game, a massive serve, and I just had to guess sometimes on the returns. I got lucky a couple of times and I hit my passing shots very well, which was important tonight.”
As for dealing with Raonic's serve, Murray said: “I've only played him one time before, so you start to see things after a few games. But he started serving a lot of big serves and I was just trying to react as quickly as possible. That's all you can do. I was lucky because sometimes they fly past you and sometimes you get a racket on it. Tonight I got a racket on it.”
He added: “You relax a little bit, but it's so important that you focus on every service game because if you let him back into it you can maybe not touch the ball on his service for three or four games. I tried to stay focused for every point and did a good job of that.”
Raonic was attempting to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final, which would also have made him the first Canadian man to make the last eight of a Grand Slam tournament in the Open era.
The world No 16 - who is expected to climb two places in next week's updated rankings list - is regarded as one of the best players of his generation, but for all his promise and rapid rise he has usually struggled against the top men.
Raonic has played opponents ranked in the world's top five on eight occasions but won only once - against Murray in Barcelona earlier this year. The two men were also supposed to play in both Miami and Toronto, but the Canadian pulled out of the former tournament with an ankle injury while the Scot withdrew from the latter because of a knee problem.
The match began earlier than scheduled because of the weather forecast. The first match of the evening session in Arthur Ashe Stadium was moved to another court, enabling Murray and Raonic to start earlier. “It throws you a little bit, but both of us agreed to go on at 7.30 because we heard that rain was coming at 9.30,” Murray said. “I was glad we got it done before the rain started.”
Murray made inroads into Raonic's service games from the start and broke to lead 5-4 with a superb drop shot. Having served out for the first set in 36 minutes, he broke again in the fifth game of the second and in the third and seventh games of the third. He rounded off a highly satisfactory night with a service winner on his first match point.
Cilic has lost six of his seven meetings with Murray, who nevertheless expects a tough quarter-final. “I lost against him here in the fourth round in 2009,” Murray said. “I've played him a few times. I won against him at Wimbledon in our most recent match. He's a tough player. He works extremely hard, he's got a solid game and I'll need to play very well to beat him.”