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By Stuart Fraser

The big guns advance in NY minus one

I wouldn’t say the action on court at this year’s US Open has been explosive, but as we reach the quarter-finals, the stage is set for a fascinating final few days in New York.

Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have all progressed as expected.  Not the case for Andy Murray however.

His third round match against Stanislas Wawrinka was a strange one to say the least.  The bookies’ must have had a nightmare trying to set the in-play odds for this one as it ebbed and flowed between each player.

Murray looked odds on to seal his place in the last 16 at a set and 3-0 up.  Some of the tennis he played in the early part of that second set was up there with his form in Toronto.

However, Murray lost focus, Wawrinka started to believe and next thing we knew, it was one set all.

Injuries for both players then followed and this match really was 50/50.  Unlike Murray however, Wawrinka kept his composure and executed his gameplan perfectly, contrived by Peter Lundgren I am sure, to seal the deal on the biggest win of his career.

It was the best performance I have seen from Wawrinka in his time on tour, but it says something for Murray’s talent and determination that the Swiss had to play his A game to beat the Scot who was on his C game at best.

Watching Murray’s press conference after, it appeared though that he himself could not provide answers for what had went wrong for him on court.  Rumours are flying about that he had an underlying physical problem which he didn’t want to talk about.  We shall wait and see if anything comes of that in the next week or two.

Incidentally, top marks to Sky for broadcasting Murray’s post-match press conference live.  You get so much more out of that, including a laugh or two, compared to the bog-standard post-match interview conducted just seconds after the player has walked off court.

So three of the big four remain.  And they all look in good form heading into the quarter-finals.

Nadal’s all-Spaniard encounter with Fernando Verdasco is a mouthwatering match to look forward to.  Memories of their epic five hour semi-final battle at the 2009 Australian Open come flooding back.  Easily the best tennis match I have ever witnessed in person.

It was the closest Verdasco has came to beating Nadal, as he has lost every one of their 10 matches on tour.

Verdasco though has nothing to lose and will be full of confidence following his awesome comeback against David Ferrer after being two sets down.  For me, this was the match of the tournament so far and was fittingly concluded with the best match point winner I can remember seeing.

Nadal comes into this match though without dropping a set,  In fact, he hasn’t even dropped his serve yet and no wonder, when he is hitting 134mph bombs out wide.  It’s the best I have ever seen him serve throughout the course of a single tournament and if he keeps that up, he will be very hard to beat.

Whoever comes through that match will play Wawrinka or Mikhail Youzhny in the quarter-finals.  Not the match we expected at this stage but both thoroughly deserve to be there and this should be a cracker of a match which could well go to five sets.

Wawrinka is playing his best ever tennis and his one handed backhand is a joy to watch.  Whilst Youzhny’s backhand doesn’t quite match Wawrinka’s, he is one of the most elegant players on tour in terms of the way he plays his strokes.

The Russian has also been involved in a few battles in his time, including one with himself in a remarkable match against Nicolas Almagro in Miami in 2008 when he bashed himself on the head repeatedly with his racket.

The pattern of quality matches continues in the other half of the draw with Federer playing Robin Soderling and Djokovic against Gael Monfils.

Federer has looked solid so far and like Nadal, has not dropped a set.  He was my pick for the tournament before it started and I would be very surprised if he doesn’t make the final at least.

Soderling though is a dangerous opponent.  His first win in 13 over Federer at Roland Garros earlier this year is huge in terms of confidence ahead of this match.

After a nervy five-setter against Austrian qualifier Andreas Haider-Maurer in the first round, the Swede has looked good with a succession of comfortable victories since. 

On his day, he can hit through anyone and he will fancy his chances of causing another grand slam upset against Federer, which would see him go back above Murray once again to No.4 in the world rankings.

Similar to Soderling, Djokovic also had a dodgy start with a five set win over Serbian compatriot Victor Troicki, but he hasn’t dropped a set since and is going about his business comfortably and quietly.

Monfils has always been talked about as a potential grand slam winner and this is the first tournament where he has shown the form to fulfil that description.  Successive wins over Robert Kendrick, Igor Andreev, Janko Tipsarevic and Richard Gasquet is very impressive.

He’s also a bit of a showman and if his antics attract the support of the crowd on Arthur Ashe, then we could have a fun match to replicate their encounter in the first round of the US Open in 2005 when they were both teenagers.

Four matches to whet the appetite but for me, it will be a Federer V Nadal grand slam final on Sunday night.  Only once have these two played each other in the past 16 months.  Another match in one of the best ever tennis rivalries is long overdue.

LTA has to give Dustin a call

When hearing in Dustin Brown’s post-match interview after losing to Andy Murray that he had not been contacted by the LTA in regards to him representing Great Britain, I could not believe it.

When the idea was mooted around Wimbledon time that the Jamaican, who has a British grandmother, could potentially play for Great Britain, I thought British tennis officials would have been on to it like a shot.

After all, we’re hardly overwhelmed with top 100 players.  Although Brown currently sits at No.123 in the rankings, he was at a career high of No.98 at the end of July, and can expect another rise after his first round win over Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo in New York.

Brown is a much better choice for the British No.2 Davis Cup slot than any of the other options we have at present so it sounds like a no brainer to me.

And not just for his tennis.  I was sitting with two friends, who are not exactly enamoured with the game, watching the Brown V Murray match and they were absolutely loving this energetic, dreadlocked character who was pulling off some incredible shots.

Although it finished as a bit of a thrashing for Brown after the first set, the point is that Brown engaged people who are not normally interested in tennis into watching the sport and enjoying it.  He could equally have the same sort of effect on kids watching on television and encourage them into taking up tennis.

There will no doubt be a number of conditions that have to be met when a player changes nationality, but the potential effect of Brown representing Great Britain is surely worth at least a phone call to the Jamaican from LTA HQ in Roehampton.

Lacklustre women’s event

When Serena Williams announced her withdrawal from the women’s singles, I thought that this would be a chance for the rest of the ladies to step up and shine in Serena’s absence.

But for me, the women’s event this year has been full of lacklustre matches.  14 out of 15 matches in the 3rd round were completed in straights, including six bagel sets.

In the men’s singles 3rd round, there were no bagel sets.  In fact, there have only been eight in the entire men’s singles draw so far.

With Venus Williams V Kim Clijsters still to come and Caroline Wozniacki performing well in the other half, I’m hoping that there will at least be some exciting competition in the final stages of what has been a fairly dull event so far.

Fisticuffs at the US Open

It appears that it isn’t just the Australian Open that sees the occasional brawl or punch-up.

Whilst watching the second round match between Djokovic and Philipp Petzschner on Arthur Ashe stadium last week, I was taken aback when play was halted due to what the commentators said was a fight in the stands.

Sadly TV pictures didn’t catch any of the action, but good old YouTube came to the rescue.  Citizen journalism at its best:

Somehow though, I can’t exactly see this happening at Wimbledon.