NEW YORK (Reuters) - Andy Murray hobbled out of the U.S. Open Sunday, beaten 6-7 7-6 6-3 6-3 in the third round by Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka after his ailing body and his mind failed him when he needed it most.
Struggling to run at full speed after requiring treatment to his legs, elbow and neck, the Briton appeared powerless to stop Wawrinka, who was battling his own injury problems but still played superbly, from pulling off the biggest upset of the championship.
“I was struggling physically and I got frustrated with that,” Murray said.
“Maybe I felt like my chance of doing well here was slipping away. I’ve worked very hard to give myself a chance of winning tournaments.
“It happens to everyone in life at different points.”
Murray’s limp departure was in stark contrast to an incredible fightback from Australia’s Samantha Stosur, who saved four match points to beat Elena Dementieva 6-3 2-6 7-6 in a nail-biting center court match that did not end until 1.35 am (0535GMT), the latest finish for a women’s match at the U.S. Open.
“That’s definitely one of the most exciting match I’ve ever played. The atmosphere out there was just awesome,” said Stosur.
“I think we both played a great match. It just came down to playing good tennis. We gave it our best shot.”
World number one Rafa Nadal, playing before Murray’s defeat, sent an ominous warning to his rivals about his plans to complete his collection of grand slam titles in New York.
The Spaniard, getting better with each match on the back of a new and improved serve, overpowered France’s Gilles Simon 6-4 6-4 6-2 to steam into the fourth round without dropping a single service game in three matches.
“It was important not to lose without dropping a set,” Nadal said. “Every day I seem to play much better which is good for my confidence.”
Venus Williams and Kim Clijsters passed their first real tests at Arthur Ashe Stadium with flying colors to safely book their places in the quarter-finals.
The pair could hardly have been more impressive as they brushed past tricky opponents to remain on course for a blockbuster semi-final showdown when the season’s last grand slam enters its second week.
Williams, the champion at Flushing Meadows in 2000 and 2001, defeated Israeli 16th seed Shahar Peer 7-6 6-3 in an ideal preparation for the more difficult matches ahead of her.
“It’s always good to have a tougher match, a kind of a match where you have to challenge yourself against your opponent and the conditions,” said Williams, who played in a red sequined dress.
Clijsters, who won the title in 2005 and again last year, thrashed Serbia’s former world number one Ana Ivanovic 6-2 6-1 in just under an hour. Like Nadal and Williams, she is yet to drop a set in the championship.
“You always want to do well at tournaments where you’ve done well, and obviously, the U.S. Open is a special tournament for me,” Clijsters said.
“Tennis wise, I feel that I’ve been improving every match.”
Clijsters’ next opponent is Stosur, who is developing a reputation as one of the toughest players in women’s tennis.
She saved a match point to beat Serena Williams in the quarter-finals of the French Open in June and another four in beating Sara Errani in New Haven last week.
“I don’t want to make a habit of doing this all the time,” the fifth seed said.
“But it’s amazing what experiences a week ago, a month ago, whatever, can really help you through the next one.”
Italy’s Francesca Schiavone, brimming with confidence after she beat Stosur in the final at Paris to capture her maiden grand slam title, also cruised through to the last eight, beating Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-3 6-0. Schiavone will play Williams in Tuesday’s quarter-finals.
Spain are already assured of at least one men’s semi-finalist after Fernando Verdasco, David Ferrer and Felciano Lopez joined their countryman Nadal in the same section of the draw.
Nadal will face Lopez next with the winner to play either Ferrer or Verdasco.
Another two Spaniards, Albert Montanes and Tommy Robredo, are also through to the last 16, giving Spain a total of six, easily the most by any one country this year.
“It’s always nice to see all the Spanish winning and being in the last rounds,” said Verdasco, who advanced with a four set win over Argentine David Nalbandian.
Wawrinka, seeded 25th, advanced to play Sam Querrey, the only American left in the men’s competition, although the big winner could well be Nadal, who was drawn to face Murray in the semi-finals.
Murray’s loss was another disappointment for the Scotsman, who arrived at Flushing Meadows seeded fourth, in great form, and holding genuine hopes of ending Britain’s 74-year wait for a men’s grand slam singles champion.
Murray was at a loss to explain his lackluster performance against Wawrinka, who teamed up with Roger Federer to win the Olympic gold medal in doubles with Roger Federer at Beijing in 2008.
Murray had sailed through his first two matches and looked to be heading to another victory when he won the first set tiebreaker then served for the second set when all of a sudden his game fell apart at Louis Armstrong Stadium.
By the start of the third set he was clearly in discomfort and protecting his left thigh but did not ask for a medical timeout and allowed his frustrations to effect his game.
The 23-year-old made the final at Flushing Meadows in 2008 and in Australia earlier this year but is still chasing his first Grand Slam title.
“I have no idea whether I’ll win a grand slam or not,” he said. “I want to, but if I never win one, then what?”
Editing by Alastair Himmer