Life is not easy for Andy Murray, who has spent most of his career laboring away under the long shadows of three all-time greats—Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic—without ever tasting the No. 1 ranking. But nor is life particularly precious to Andy Murray, who slew a butterfly on court during the fifth set of his U.S. Open quarterfinal against sixth-seeded Kei Nishikori. Its ghost fluttered through Murray’s fragile psyche and wrung out a few crucial double-faults and overcooked serve returns in the final games, robbing the Scot of a semifinal spot.
But maybe it wasn’t all the doing of vengeful bug ghosts: Nishikori played rangy, rubbery, (and frankly, Murray-esque) defense, digging in to chip back apparent winners, lunging for stab volleys at the net. None of Murray’s opponents thus far this tournament have had the consistency to hang with him from the baseline, but through all five sets Nishikori remained stable, lingering in the points, finding small seams of opportunity for offense, like his flat, leaping backhand winners thwacked inside the service box. Most memorably, he fed Murray a steady supply of drop shots, more than I’ve seen in any match in recent memory—not all of them were perfectly struck, but Nishikori was sharp enough at net to clean up any mess Murray might’ve sent back his way.
The Japanese 26-year-old looked composed as he notched one of the bigger wins of his career; he’s enjoyed success at in New York, making the 2014 finals and eking out a perfect 5-0 record against top 10 players. Meanwhile, Murray looked petulant, smacking the net and flinging his racquet. During the fourth set he walked to the chair to complain about a let called when the stadium’s sound system erupted with a booming Hans Zimmer-sound, right in the middle of the point. (This has happened a few times this tournament, and it’s been weird as hell.) Murray thought that the official should’ve let them play on, and that frustration seemed to taint the rest of his match, leaving him rattled and angry at something, everything—the official, the world, the poor bug, himself.