Andy Murray might have been expected to lose to a Swiss at this year's US Open, but few thought his conqueror would be Stanislas Wawrinka. Roger Federer's Davis Cup partner had lost to Murray in five of their last six meetings, including twice in Grand Slam tournaments, but it was the world No 27 who won a dramatic third-round contest 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-3 here last night.
The match, which lasted nearly four hours, turned into a survival of the fittest. Wawrinka had to have his right thigh strapped after hurting it during the third set, but it was Murray who was suffering more by the end. The world No 4's movement appeared to be impaired and he also had treatment to his right thigh.
Murray, whose chances of winning his favourite Grand Slam tournament here last year were scuppered by a wrist injury, was foot-faulted four times in the match, which may have been an indication of his physical difficulties. He said afterwards that he felt pins and needles around his right elbow.
The 23-year-old Scot had been one of the favourites to win here after his recent victory in the Toronto Masters and this defeat dented his remarkable run of consistency in Grand Slam events. This was his first exit before the fourth round of a major since the 2008 French Open.
There was more drama even than in the meeting between Murray and 25-year-old Wawrinka at Wimbledon last summer, when Murray won in five sets in the first match to be played under the Centre Court roof. There were 13 breaks of serve, 101 winners (58 by Wawrinka) and 91 unforced errors (43 by Murray). Murray conducted a running dialogue with himself for most of the match, in which his play varied between admirable aggression and undue caution.
The match was played in Louis Armstrong Stadium, which was the main show court here until 13 years ago. It is a bear-pit of an arena, with the spectators much closer to the action than in Arthur Ashe Stadium, and a boisterous holiday weekend crowd sometimes showed scant respect for niceties like not walking around between points or shouting out between first and second serves. Bathed in glorious sunshine and cooled by a stiff breeze, they were clearly determined to enjoy themselves.
The see-saw pattern of the match was quickly established. At 1-1 Wawrinka saved four break points, but in the following game Murray dropped serve as the Swiss took advantage of his over-cautious play. Murray had yet to come out of his shell when Wawrinka, serving for the set at 5-3 and 30-0, played two loose shots, which seemed to galvanise his opponent into action. Murray, suddenly showing more aggression, broke back and went on to win the tie-break 7-3. Team Murray leapt to their feet, a corner having apparently been turned.
For periods in the second set Murray was on fire. The Scot raced into a 3-0 lead playing some excellent attacking tennis, but this time it was Murray who failed to serve out. He then hit two loose forehands on his own serve early in the tie-break, which Wawrinka won 7-4.
Murray again drew first blood in the third set, but dropped serve twice in a row as Wawrinka took a 3-1 lead. When Murray served at 1-4 and 40-15 Wawrinka hurt his right thigh, took a medical time-out and returned with it heavily strapped. Nevertheless, the Swiss did not appear hampered in his movement and went on to serve out for the set.
Between sets it was Murray who received treatment on his left thigh. When he dropped his serve in the opening game of the fourth set he looked physically shot, but, in classic Murray fashion, the Scot broke back immediately. Wawrinka, however, was playing better and better and broke to lead 3-2. Murray, having had further treatment for what seemed to be a problem with his neck and back, dropped his serve again to hand the Swiss victory.
Wawrinka now plays the American Sam Querrey, who beat Nicolas Almagro, one of nine Spanish men to reach the last 32. There will be two all-Spanish matches in the fourth round. Rafael Nadal, who beat Gilles Simon 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, will face Feliciano Lopez, while Fernando Verdasco, who beat David Nalbandian 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, meets David Ferrer.
Oliver Golding won his first match in the boys' singles, beating Spain's Andres Artunedo Martinavarr 7-6, 6-3. The 16-year-old Londoner was given a code violation when his racket flew out of his hand and over the court fence. "It just slid out of my hand," Golding said. "The umpire said she knew it was an accident but had to give me a code violation because it went out of the court."