US Open: Off With His Head

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by Nate ChuraOn match point, Croatian and world #17 Marin Cilic served a bomb down the T of the ad court service box to cut off the hopes of Scottish-born Andy Murray of making a run to a second consecutive US Open final. Brits everywhere are in mourning. The ace was 1 of 10 in the match and the nail that sealed the coffin in the world #2’s straight sets round of 16 loss, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2, on Arthur Ashe stadium.

In a post-mortem, Murray couldn’t put his finger on exactly what gripped him on court. “I don’t know,” he said. “I just couldn’t get myself into enough return games and couldn’t quite find a way to get myself back into the match.”

Cilic broke Murray five times in the match to advance to his first-ever Grand Slam quarterfinal. After the match, he spoke about beating one of the hottest players of the summer season.

“I mean I’m feeling tremendously happy,” said Cilic. “Of course it’s the biggest result for me so far. Now that I don’t have this blockade in my head, I can look forward, and, of course, focus on the next matches.”

Murray walked onto Ashe the leading hard court player of the season, having won 37 matches on the surface this year. It was his 6th consecutive appearance in the round of 16 of a major slam. Murray also lead Cilic in their career head-to-head, 3 to zip. But when all is said and done, the numbers had little meaning once the players stepped onto the court.

Of seven service break opportunities, Murray consolidated none. Cilic, on the other, hand stole 5 of 9 break chances off the Murray serve. And of total points won, Cilic took the cake: 95-76.

With Cilic serving at 4-5, 15-40, Murray had two chances to take the first set. But the Croatian dug deep at the crucial moment and brandished the weapon that would win him the match: his serve. Cilic delivered an ace and then won the next point to bring the game to deuce. From that point on, he was not seriously challenged for the rest of the match.

Cilic broke Murray at love to take the first set, 7-5, and then continued to steamroll with his serve and big groundstrokes.

Hear Murray’s side of the story here:

In the next round, Cilic will face the 6th seeded Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro, who won his match against Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero quite easily, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. Del Potro is now considered by many experts to be the favorite in the bottom half of the draw.

Listen to Cilic’s thoughts looking ahead to his quarterfinal showdown against Del Potro:

In the bottom half of the women’s draw, former world #1 and 2005 Open champ Kim Clijsters advanced to the semifinals, after thrashing Na Li of China 6-2, 6-4.

The Xs and Os tell the story in this match. Li committed 41 unforced errors in the straight sets loss, compared to Clijsters’ 25.

After donating most of set number one, Li managed to stay on serve in the second until 4-all.

Unfortunately for Li, her 80 percent 1st serve percentage didn’t help. She won only 54% of first serve points, and 50% of second serve points. Clijsters broke Li for a 5-4 lead after Li, yet again, hit a ball into the net.

Li saved one match point in the following game with Clijsters serving at 40-15, but in the end there was little the 26-year-old Li could do to stave off defeat. At 40-30 Clijsters unloaded a second serve to Li’s forehand in the ad court. Indicative of the match, Li shanked it outside of the doubles court.

“I’m really out there,” Clijsters said after the match, “enjoying every ball I can run to. It’s a good feeling to have.”

Next up: Clijsters plays defending champion Serena Williams in the semifinals later this week. Williams dispatched of Italian Flavia Penetta 6-4, 6-3.

Listen to Clijsters’ take on her upcoming match against Serena:

(Getty Images)

 Marin Cilic of Croatia (R) shakes hands with Andy Murray.
Marin Cilic of Croatia (R) shakes hands with Andy Murray.
Juan Martin Del Potro returns a shot to Juan Carlos Ferrero.
Juan Martin Del Potro returns a shot to Juan Carlos Ferrero.
Kim Clijsters of Belgium returns a shot against Venus Williams.
Kim Clijsters of Belgium returns a shot against Venus Williams.