Andy Murray was a man in a hurry here at the US Open last night. Playing the last match of the day in Arthur Ashe Stadium, the 22-year-old Scot did not begin his third-round contest against Taylor Dent until 10.12pm, but within an hour and a half he was heading back to the locker room after a hugely impressive 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory. He will now play Croatia’s Marin Cilic in the last 16.
Dent, a 28-year-old American who is rebuilding his career after two years out with a serious back injury, offered a very different challenge to most modern players. He is a throwback to another era, a player who gets into the net at every opportunity. He has a huge serve, which he was striking here at speeds of up to 145mph, and volleys with great assurance. He also has a lovely touch at the net and caught Murray out on several occasions by going for stop volleys rather than attempting to punch away his winners.
Murray, however, loves playing an opponent who offers him a target. If there were times when Dent dominated the net and read Murray’s passing shots, the Scot also drilled a succession of winners cross-court and down the flanks. His consistency on his ground strokes was such that he made only 13 unforced errors in the entire match. "He really doesn't miss," Dent said afterwards.
The most effective shot of the night was Murray’s return of serve. No matter how hard Dent struck the ball the world No 2 seemed to be able to read where he was going to put it. The American, who hit only two aces, kept attacking the net behind his first serve, only to find the ball flying back into his feet or down the lines. “He made it look and feel like I served under-hand at times,” Dent said.
Although there were times in the first set when Murray struggled to find the target with his own first serve, the problem was largely solved in the second. He hit seven aces and only one double fault.
Murray preferred to play from the baseline and knew that he had to maintain a good length on his ground strokes to keep Dent away from the net, although he seemed to relish the challenge whenever the American charged forward. The contrast of styles made for a thoroughly entertaining match.
“I thought I returned really, really well,” Murray said afterwards. “That was probably the key to the match. I managed to finish the match off well and I served well at the end.”
Murray last played Dent four years ago, beating him at both Queen’s Club, in the second senior tournament of the Scot’s career, and at Cincinnati. However, much has changed in Dent’s world since then. The American broke vertebrae in his back in 2006 and was subsequently out of the game for two years.
Following two operations Dent never expected to play again, but after he had spent eight months lying in bed in a body cast doctors said he could give it a go. At the start of last year he would be exhausted simply after walking down the street, but he trained hard, played a handful of tournaments and made his Grand Slam return at this year’s Australian Open.
Having taken more than four hours to find a way past Spain’s Ivan Navarro on Friday night, Dent might have expected to feel the effects 48 hours later, but he said fitness had not been a factor, admitting that Murray had simply been too good for him.
Murray won the first nine points, but Dent broke back immediately, quickly finding his touch on his volleys. At 4-3, however, Murray hit a series of superb returns to break again and served out for the set.
Breaks in the third and seventh games saw Murray take the second set with something to spare. From 2-2 in the third Dent did not win another game. On the first match point Dent charged into the net, only to be beaten by a beautifully judged lob. It was a fitting end to a thoroughly polished display by the Scot.
Murray has beaten Cilic, his next opponent, in all three of their meetings, most recently in the fourth round of this year’s French Open. The Croatian needed five sets to beat the unfancied American Jesse Levine in the second round here, but last night brushed aside Denis Istomin, of Uzbekistan, winning 6-1, 6-4, 6-3.