Andy Murray has one of the best records for consistency in the men's game but the 28-year-old Scot's remarkable run of appearances in Grand Slam quarter-finals is over. Murray was beaten 7-6, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6 here by Kevin Anderson in the fourth round of the US Open, which ended his record of reaching the quarter-finals in each of his previous 18 Grand Slam tournaments. The last time the world No 3 failed to reach the last eight of a Grand Slam event in which he competed was when he was beaten by Stan Wawrinka in the third round here in 2010.
At four hours and 18 minutes it was a brutally physical contest. Anderson, who goes on to play Wawrinka in the quarter-finals, had lost in all seven of his previous appearances in the fourth round of Grand Slam tournaments and had lost all 15 matches he had played against top 10 players at this level, but the world No 14 went on to play one of the matches of his life.
Anderson served well throughout, hitting 25 aces, and struck some huge ground strokes, hitting 81 winners to Murray’s 49. The 6ft 8in South African showed a fine touch at the net and played the big points particularly well. Murray converted only three of his 11 break points while Anderson converted four of his nine.
US Open 2015 in pictures
US Open 2015 in pictures
1/4 First Round
Novak Djokovic celebrates his victory over Joao Souza
2/4 First Round
Serena Williams consoles Vitalia Diatchenko after beating her in the US Open
3/4 First Round
Heather Watson suffered an early exit to Lauren Davis in a 7-6 7-6 defeat
4/4 First Round
Kei Nishikori lost to Benoît Paire 6-4 3-6 4-6 7-6 6-4
Murray was left to regret losing the first two sets, in which his level dipped at crucial moments. His fightback began too late to save the second set and from that moment onwards he faced a huge task. Murray had come back from two sets down to beat Adrian Mannarino last week, but this time there was to be no repeat.
Anderson is currently at his highest position in the world rankings and went into the match with an impressive serving record. He had dropped his serve only once in 54 service games in the first three rounds, in the course of which he had served more aces (69) than any other player left in the tournament. Over the course of the whole year, only Ivo Karlovic and John Isner have served more aces.
After playing his first three matches in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Murray returned to Louis Armstrong Stadium, which is the second of the show courts here. It has a very different feel to the cavernous 24,000-capacity main stadium. It has a much more intimate feel, with seats for 10,100 people, but can also be windier than Ashe. On the court there is less space at the sides and at the two ends. The Scot had lost on the same court to Wawrinka in 2010 and to Nikolay Davydenko in the fourth round in 2006.
“It was a tough match,” Murray said afterwards. “That court is a lot quicker than Ashe. I felt like I was on the back foot quite a lot. I wasn't able to play that offensively. But when you're playing against someone who has the game style that he does, you're always going to have to do a fair bit of defending, especially if he serves well.”
The stadium, which generated a raucous atmosphere throughout, was packed as the match started in glorious sunshine late in the afternoon. The former Chelsea footballer, Frank Lampard, who now plays for New York City, and his fiancée, Christine Bleakley, watched the match alongside Murray’s entourage.
Murray started well enough, holding serve with three aces in the opening game. In the fourth game, which lasted 12 minutes, Anderson saved three break points, two of them with unreturned serves. They proved to be the only break points of the opening set.
The tie-break at the end of it was tight. When Murray was about to hit a second serve at 2-1 he stopped his motion after a spectator stood up to tend to a crying baby. The Scot promptly double-faulted.
Murray seemed to take back the momentum when he levelled at 4-4, finishing a 29-shot rally, the longest of the match so far, with a stunning backhand cross-court winner. At 5-5, however, Anderson created set point with a half-volley winner and converted it with a huge forehand.
It felt like a set Murray should not have lost and the Scot was soon in further trouble. His second double fault saw him go 15-40 down in the second game. Although he saved the first break point with an ace, Anderson took the second after chasing down a drop shot and then hitting a well-judged lob.
Anderson broke again to go 5-1 up, hitting a forehand winner on break point. Murray broke back immediately, converting his fourth break point of the game, and had a chance to get the set back on serve two games later, only to put a backhand long on break point. Murray saved three set points but on the fourth Anderson hit his 12 ace of the match.
Murray was furious at the changeover, launching into a tirade that appeared to be directed at nobody in particular. His mood was not helped when Anderson left the court for what proved a lengthy toilet break. Murray complained to the umpire, demanding to know whether it was reasonable for Anderson to take such a long time.
Anderson broke serve in the opening game of the third set, but Murray responded superbly with some admirably aggressive play to break twice in a row and go 3-1 up. However, just when it seemed that the Scot might be turning the match around Anderson replied in kind, breaking back to put the set back on serve. After putting a forehand wide on break point Murray smashed his racket on the floor in anger, for which he was given a code violation.
The set went to another tie-break, in which Murray was never behind. With the crowd starting to get behind him, the Scot finally found a good serving rhythm. From 5-2 up he hit a service winner and then an ace, upon which he encouraged the crowd to pump up the volume even further.
If Murray’s supporters expected Anderson to fade they were disappointed. A tight fourth set went to yet another tie-break, which Anderson dominated from the moment he won the first point with an unreturned serve. The South African won the tie-break 7-0, with Murray netting a forehand on the first match point following a crunching return of serve.
“I felt I played one of the best matches of my career,” Anderson said afterwards. “To do it at this stage, at this round, obviously to get through to the quarters for the first time in a Slam definitely means a lot to me.”