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Playing an oddly listless match while exhibiting the body language of a man undergoing a tax audit, No. 2 seed Andy Murray was battered by No. 16 Marin Cilic in a stunning 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 fourth-round loss on Tuesday that produced a rare men’s upset in the United States Open.
Perhaps more surprising than the result, though, was how it happened. Murray, who used to have a reputation for moping when things went poorly, had climbed to the top of the rankings on his ability to adjust mid-match and create ways to win. But in this match, Murray’s game disintegrated as Cilic, an up-and-coming 20-year-old from Croatia, plowed through the match without showing any emotion.
“It just got away from me,” Murray said. “I couldn’t get myself back in the match. I couldn’t find any way to get into the games and he was dominating the points.”
Murray had come into the tournament looking strong, having won one of the two hard-court warm-up tournaments — in Montreal with a victory over Juan Martin del Potro — and losing to No. 1 Roger Federer in the semifinals of the other in Cincinnati.
But his game had no bite and after Cilic overcame some errors early in the match, he turned all of his varied weapons on a mystified Murray.
The match started slowly, with errors on both sides until they reached 5-5 in the first set. There, Murray played a horrible service game, double-faulting to 0-40 and Cilic converted his first break. He then held off Murray’s attempt to break and grabbed the first set.
“I returned poorly and he served well,” Murray said. “That was really the difference. Once he got that first set, he hit the ball really well and started playing really aggressive.”
Murray visibly sagged after that swing of events and Cilic pounced on his growing vulnerability, breaking Murray in the first game of the second set.
From there, it became a march to Murray’s demise. He hung his head, swung his racket in frustration and swore to no one in particular after one Cilic mis-hit dropped in for a point. After the second set loss, Murray threw his racket to the ground.
From there, Cilic kept his all-business expression and never let Murray back into the match. He was painting the lines with forehand winners while Murray struggled to keep his forehand in the court. Murray never adjusted his game or tried any new tactics, other than growing continually more annoyed at what was happening.
Serving at 2-4 in the third set and defeat seemingly inevitable, Murray played perhaps his most dispirited game, flubbing a forehand into the net to get broken a final time. Cilic served out the set with ease and the upset was complete.
Cilic was not the most likely candidate to pull off this upset. Though on the rise at age 20, having reached his No. 17 ranking, he had never beaten a top-three player. While he is a strong server, it has never been a true weapon in top-tier matches. Against Murray, though, he had 10 aces and faced few challenges on his service games.