When the fans started streaming out of Arthur Ashe stadium on the fifth night of the US Open, they made the reasonable gamble that Rafael Nadal could not blow a two-set lead against Fabio Fognini. When they did the same on Saturday night, the chances of Andy Murray letting Thomaz Bellucci back into the match from two sets up were about the same as might be laid for the new roof to fall in.
Neither happened, metaphorically or otherwise. Murray was so commanding after an early trade of breaks that the rest of the match only intermittently stretched the Scot, who wrapped it up 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 just after 11pm local time, an hour and a half earlier than Nadal’s sad exit.
It had taken him two hours and 11 minutes, but he and the Brazilian left-hander delivered plenty of value for money to spectators who stayed to the end, where they would have heard the winner tell his former coach, Brad Gilbert, courtside, “It was a lot cooler tonight, easier to return, tougher to serve and, because of that, there were a lot of long rallies. He plays with confidence when he’s ahead. When he got a break I was a bit worried, but I got the break straight back. I used my variety a lot to make it tough for him.
“It’s very important to get a quick win. The last match [coming from two sets down to beat Adrian Mannarino] was tough physically and mentally.”
Murray begins the second part of his campaign on Monday by stepping up a gear and 15 ranking places, against 15th seed Kevin Anderson, who beat the rising young Austrian Dominic Thiem 6-3, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3) in just under two-and-a-half hours.
Murray said: “Kevin will be a tough match. He serves extremely well and doesn’t give you too many chances.”
They are in the same quarter of the draw as Stan Wawrinka and the American Donald Young, who won contrasting matches on Saturday, but Murray looks the best bet to go through to the semi-finals and a probable match against Roger Federer, who was again impressive in beating Philipp Kohlschreiber in the bottom quarter.
Anderson lost to Murray for the fifth time in six outings in two quick sets in the final of Queen’s just before Wimbledon, but he has been in excellent form lately. It took Federer to stop him in the third round in Cincinnati last month and the boom-serving South African – who put a relatively moderate 17 aces past Thiem to lift him to the top of the tournament table with 69 – won the Winston-Salem 250 before arriving in New York.
Murray, meanwhile, made a shrewd move in letting it be known he would not mind the late match on Arthur Ashe, thus avoiding the possibility of being put on the dreaded Louis Armstrong Court, where he has suffered in the past.
There was little anxiety for the Scot on the main court. After the early sorting-out exchanges, he hit another level. Some of Murray’s shot-making took the breath away, leaving Bellucci stranded time and again.
The sixth game, in which Bellucci held through eight deuce points, saving four break points, drained him as Murray time and again hurt him with precise backhands that hit the lines.
Murray broke with a delightful top-spin forehand that his opponent did well to get a racket on, and served out to 30.
Bellucci, who’d double-faulted to drop serve near the start of the first set, did so again at the beginning of the second, and never properly got back into the fight, Murray securing the set with a running crosscourt forehand when slightly off balance.
They went with serve in the third until Murray broke in the 11th game, almost as if conserving his energy, and he served out the match comfortably to reach the fourth round here for the eighth time.
Murray’s numbers were respectable: six aces and 20 unreturned serves, breaking five times from 13 opportunities, with 32 clean winners and 27 unforced errors.
He will not be much concerned about the statistics, however. His challenge is keep his energy levels high, and quick wins are the best way to ensure that.