Before Rafael Nadal went on court to play Nicolas Kiefer here last night to complete the second round of the US Open only one of the top 10 seeds had dropped a set.
The man in question was Andy Murray, who duly took his place in the last 32 but only after an up-and-down performance against Paul Capdeville, the world No 87. Murray won 6-2, 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 and tomorrow plays the winner of last night's match between Taylor Dent and Ivan Navarro.
Murray-watchers have grown to expect the unexpected from the 22-year-old Scot, but his loose second set came completely out of the blue. There was nothing on view before or after to suggest that Capdeville would offer a major threat to last year's runner-up, who put his dip in form down to feeling sick. "Maybe I didn't eat enough or ate too close to the match," he said.
But for that set it was another impressive display by the world No 2. Murray, who was physically sick on court here four years ago when he beat Andrei Pavel, said: "I played three very good sets and one poor one – but you're allowed to play a bad set sometimes.I just felt a bit lethargic, a bit low on energy. I don't know why, but I managed to pick it up at the end when I needed to."
The temperature was approaching 30C on a gloriously sunny afternoon, but Murray did not think the conditions had been a factor. "The conditions in Montreal and Cincinnati were a lot hotter than it was today," he said.
Capdeville, a 26-year-old Chilean, has never progressed beyond the second round of a Grand Slam tournament and had gone out in the first round of nine of his 14 previous tournaments this year. He has a decent forehand, which he strikes low and hard over the net, but Murray was not unduly troubled by it for most of the match.
The stadium was barely a quarter full at the start as the crowd took a break after watching Serena Williams, but the box where Murray's entourage were watching was brimming. It included Will Ferrell, the American comedian, actor and tennis nut, who played doubles with Murray at last Saturday's charity day here.
Both men played cautiously in the first four games, which took 22 minutes to complete, but when Murray won the next four in a row there was no hint of the problems to come. He was striking the ball confidently and hitting some fine volleys as he attacked the net more than is his custom.
When Murray held serve with successive aces at 132mph and 137mph in the second game of the second set he seemed to be coasting, but for a brief period thereafter his level dropped alarmingly. Two loose forehands gave Capdeville his first break in the fourth game and after the Chilean saved two break points when serving at 3-1 he took the set with something to spare. At 5-3 he served out to love, with Murray returning only one of his serves.
Murray was looking sluggish and ill at ease, but as he has done so often in the past the Scot changed the pattern of the match in the blink of an eye. A clever drop shot set up break point in the second game of the set and it was converted when Capdeville made an ill-judged attempt to emulate the stroke and put the ball into the net.
By now Murray was playing with renewed vigour and passion and striking the ball beautifully. The Scot took the third set in just 21 minutes without making a single unforced error, with Capdeville winning only seven of the 31 points. The Chilean stopped the rot by holding serve in the second game of the fourth set, but when Murray broke to love to lead 4-1, finishing off with a rasping forehand cross-court winner, the Chilean must have known the game was up.
Marin Cilic, a potential fourth-round opponent for Murray, laboured to a five-set victory over the American Jesse Levine, the world No 135, but Juan Martin del Potro, who is seeded to play the Scot in the quarter-finals for the second year in succession, looked in fine fettle as he beat Austria's Jurgen Melzer 7-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Serena Williams never looked in danger of following Elena Dementieva and Jelena Jankovic out of the tournament, beating Spain's Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez 6-3, 7-5. The defending champion next meets Daniela Hantuchova, who saw off Vania King for the loss of only four games.
Melanie Oudin, the 17-year-old American who knocked out Dementieva, now plays Maria Sharapova, who made short work of another local teenager, beating Christina McHale 6-2, 6-1 in Thursday's night session.
*Murray is being lined up to play mixed doubles with Laura Robson at the Hopman Cup in Perth in January in the build-up to the Australian Open.