There was a certain amount of expectancy on the fourth day of this year’s US Open following the elimination of some of the higher ranked players 24-hours earlier. That didn’t prove to be the case on Thursday except from a British point of view with Andy Murray unable to raise his game in his second-round match with Grigor Dimitrov.
I fought hard enough, but just didn’t play well enough. Ultimately these are the events that you want to play your best tennis in and create more great moments and didn’t do that this year. Andy Murray
The British contingent of four males had swept through their openers but with Murray’s 6-3 6-4 6-1 loss to Bulgaria’s Dimitrov, a player he had defeated in eight of their 11 previous meetings, that performance couldn’t be repeated after Jack Draper, Dan Evans and Cameron Norrie secured their victories.
It was clear from the outset that the pair were going to have a battle to gain control with the four opening games taking 37-minutes to complete but eventually, Dimitrov, showing no signs of fatigue following his four-and-a-half hour, five set, first-round win on Tuesday, claimed the first set after a tough 63-minutes.
In fact, it was Murray who couldn’t match the former world No.3 from a physical point of view and slumped to defeat after two-hours and 45-minutes on Arthur Ashe Stadium in what was their first meeting in nearly seven years.
Murray, who hasn’t made a deep run at a Grand Slam in six years, will now have to wait until next year for his 50th win at Flushing Meadows.
“It’s obviously disappointing to not play how you would like. But maybe I need to accept that, these events, I had the deep runs and everything that I felt like I’m capable of, they might not be there, as well,” the 36-year-old admitted later.
“I’m aware what I’m doing, it’s unbelievably challenging to play at the highest level as I am now. And some days it’s harder than others. But yeah, today is obviously a really disappointing defeat and probably the manner of it as well.
“I fought hard enough, but just didn’t play well enough. Ultimately these are the events that you want to play your best tennis in and create more great moments and didn’t do that this year.”
The former world number one has not made the second week of a Grand Slam since reaching the quarter finals at Wimbledon in 2017.
“I still enjoy everything that goes into playing at a high level. I enjoy the work. You know, the training and trying to improve and trying to get better, I do still enjoy that,” Murray added.
“That’s what keeps me going. If things change and I stop enjoying that or my results, my ranking and everything, like, if I start to go backwards in that respect, you know, in a few months’ time I was ranked 60 in the world or whatever instead of moving up the way, things might change.”
Dimitrov, who saved three match points in his opening round marathon, goes on to face 2020 runner-up Alexander Zverev of Germany for a place in the last 16.
“I was expecting honestly five sets in a way, so I was constantly trying to remind myself I was here for the long haul,” the 16th seeded Bulgarian said.
Dimitrov reached the US Open semi-finals in 2019 but had fallen in the second round in each of his past three trips.
“I had great memories in 2019. I would love to repeat that and why not go further.”
Further up the draw, Dan Evans has set up a meeting with the top seeded Carlos Alcaraz, the defending champion.
The British No.2 recovered well to defeat his Dutch opponent Botic van de Zandschulp 1-6 6-1 6-3 6-3 victory and advance into a very high profile third round match and will certainly have to raise his game to make an impact on the Spanish 20-year-old.
Against Van de Zandschulp, Evans struggled and his performance in the first set was ell below par but he improved dramatically as the match progressed to secure a well-earned victory after two-hours and 41-minutes.
“It took a bit of time to get myself in the match and I played pretty sensible tennis,” Evans said later.
“I wouldn’t say it was my best match level-wise, but I did what I had to do”.
Earlier in the day, Jack Draper recorded the first British win with a very polished performance to take out the Polish 17th seed, Hubert Hurkacz 6-2 6-4 7-5 in two-hours and 12-minutes, while the British No.1 took a bit longer to defeat the Taiwanese qualifier Hsu Yu-hsiou 7-5 6-4 6-4 in two-hours and 28-minutes.
There were no signs of the shoulder problem which forced Draper to retire last week from the Winston-Salem Open, as the 21-year-old powered his way past the Pole and admitted that the injury problems which have beset him this season have made the year ‘mentally challenging’ and in New York, he was putting all his problems behind him.
Draper broke Hurkacz’s usually-reliable serve twice in the first set, doing the same in the second as it became increasingly apparent his opponent was struggling physically.
Slumped on his chair during a changeover in the third set, Hurkacz called to see the doctor and a retirement looked possible.
The former Wimbledon semi-finalist gamely battled on, playing what Draper said was “some of his best tennis”, and the British number five focused purely on his own side of the court to seal his progress.
Meanwhile Cameron Norrie needed time to get his game moving against world number 237 Hsu, who failed to convert four set points when 5-4 up in the opening set but it sparked things off for the 16th seed who responded by claiming six consecutive games to take the first set and grab an early break in the second.
The 28-year-old never looked back, edging the last two sets to set up a third-round meeting with Italy’s Matteo Arnaldi, a 3-6 7-5 7-6(5) 5-7 6-1 victor over the young Frenchman Arthur Fils.
“Honestly, he should have won that first set but I was able to take the momentum into the second set,” Norrie told spectators out on court 11 as he continued his run to match last years fourth round appearance.
In other action, Carlos Alcaraz whose first round opponent retired, had to work a bit harder to progress into the third round recovering from a break down in the third to defeat South Africa’s Lloyd Harris 6-3 6-1 7-6(4).
Harris, a former US Open quarter finals in 2021, tested the youngster with some big forehands and strong net play in the third but just couldn’t make the most of his opportunities.
“I played a great match from the beginning of the match until the last ball,” Alcaraz said after his 9th straight US Open win. “If I have to pick out something I think I played a good second set without many mistakes and playing my game.
“I did have a bad game in the third set when I got broken and I had to forget it,” he continued. “I stayed strong mentally and played a great return game to break back. It was very important for me to get another straight-sets win in the first rounds.”
Jannik Sinner, the Italian sixth seed, maintained his supremacy over countrymen, on this occasion defeating Lorenzo Sonego 6-4 6-2 6-4 and has yet to drop his serve at Flushing Meadows this year.
The eighth seeded Andrey Rublev ousted Frenchman Gael Monfils 6-4 6-3 3-6 6-1 and in the process delivered 31 winners and broke him six times.
Other matches saw 13th-seeded Alex De Minaur steamroll past Yibing Wu of China 6-1 6-2 6-1 and former finalist Alexander Zverev defeating countryman Daniel Altmaier 7-6(1) 3-6 6-4 6-3.
Also through is former champion Stan Wawrinka who powered past Argentina’s Tomas Martin Etcheverry (30), 7-6(6) 6-7(7) 6-, 6-2 and France’s Arthur Rinderknech who advanced following Matteo Berrettini’s retirement with right ankle injury at 6-4 5-3.
In the late match, Daniil Medvedev (3) battled over three hours to get past Aussie Christopher O’Connell 6-2 6-2 6-7(6) 6-2.
And finally, the curtain came down on John Isner’s career when he lost to his countryman Michael Mmoh 3-6 4-6 7-6(3) 6-4 7-6(10-7) in wat was a four-hour battle. Mmoh goes on to face Norrie next.
The 38-year-old Isner, who announced he would be retiring from pro=tennis at the end of this championship, squandered a two-set lead and saved a match point before finally capitulating.
“It’s tough,” said an emotional Isner, who buried his head in his towel while taking in the ovation from the crowded Grandstand.
“This is why I’ve worked as hard as I have my whole life, to play in atmospheres like this. Of course I don’t win them all, as we know.
“Just like today, to play in front of this crowd, to have the support I have, is pretty special.
“So thank you.”
The big-serving Isner is best known for taking part in the longest tennis match ever played at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships, an 11-hour epic against Frenchman Nicolas Mahut spanning over three days.
“I wanted one more US Open, and was able to get that, so… It was a fun match overall. Of course, the result is disappointing, but I’m proud of what I’ve achieved in my career,” he continued.
“Tennis has been a huge part of my life. It’s tough to say good-bye. It’s not easy. But eventually this day would come. It’s hard to prepare for the emotions of it.”
Isner, who stands 6’10”, was a quarter finalist at Flushing Meadows in 2011 and 2018, reaching the last eight at Wimbledon in 2018. He is a former world number eight and has made his mark on the Tour by establishing an aces record of 14,470 delivered. He has also won 16 titles.