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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, August 31, 2023


Grigor Dimitrov broke to start each set defeating Andy Murray 6-3, 6-4, 6-1, rolling into the US Open third round for the fourth time.

Photo credit: Simon Bruty/USTA/US Open

NEW YORK—Swallowed up by the shadow on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Andy Murray ranted at his box in frustration.

A dynamic Grigor Dimitov broke to start each set, shrunk space for Murray to strike and ultimately showed the former champion the door.

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Applying unsettling variation, Dimitrov defeated Murray 6-3, 6-4, 6-1, rolling into the US Open third round for the fourth time.

"It was a great day. Happy to finish in straight sets," Dimitrov said. "I think that was a big key for me. Just very happy how I moved overall on the court.

"Physically I felt great. I felt recovered after the first match after playing for so long. It was very, I mean, very disciplined performance today and very happy with the way that I managed my game over the course of the match."

It is Dimitrov’s first Flushing Meadows third round appearance since his run to the 2019 US Open semifinals and sets up a showdown with a second straight Olympic gold-medal champion—Alexander Zverev—for a trip to the fourth round.

Earlier, Zverev converted 6 of 26 break points winning an all-German battle vs. Daniel Altmaier 7-6(1), 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in three hours, 43 minutes.

The Dimitrov vs. Zverev match pits former ATP Finals champions and former world No. 3 players.

The 12th-ranked Zverev has won five of six meetings vs. Dimitrov, including straight-sets wins in the Roland Garros round of 16 in June and a 6-2, 6-2 sweep in Cincinnati earlier this month.

"I mean, if he beats Murray in straight sets, I think he's playing well, right?" Zverev said of Dimitrov. "That speaks for itself in a way. We'll see how it goes.

"I think every tournament is different. Yes, we played last week in Cincinnati, but I'm expecting something very different here. Hopefully much better match in a way."

Today’s opener on Ashe Stadium was a match of former US Open boys’ champions.

Mixing almost exclusively slice backhands with his jolting forehand, Dimitrov applied more pressure at crunch time. An assertive Dimitrov doubled Murray’s winner output—32 to 16—converted 6 of 13 break points and won 22 of 31 trips to net forcing the former world No. 1 to play from behind and ultimately denying his 50th career US Open victory.

Murray summed up his loss simply: Dimitrov served and returned better.

"One, I created lots of chances on the return and didn't break serve enough; I didn't serve well," Murray said. "Obviously started every single set. I think I got broken at the beginning of every set so could never sort of get any scoreboard pressure really.

"Then, yeah, the times when I did sort of get back into sets or sort of break back, yeah, I just didn't play well enough. Didn't serve well enough. And like I said, when I created the chances on the return games, it felt to me there was, I don't know, like lots of like Love-30s, 15-40s, breakpoints, and yeah, just couldn't get any momentum."

The question heading into this first meeting between the pair since the 2016 Beijing final was how would Dimitrov hold up physically after fighting off three match points in out-dueling Alex Molcan with a pulsating 6-7(9), 6-7(5), 6-1, 7-5, 7-6(9) comeback conquest in the opening round.

Yet it was Murray, who dissected Corentin Moutet 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 in his first-round match, that looked more lethargic at the start.

These two practiced together the week before the US Open began and today Murray suffered a horrific start. Dimitrov rolled through nine of the first 10 points scoring the love break for a 2-0 lead.

In a punishing 18-point game that spanned nearly 15 minutes, Murray hung tough breaking back.

Three games into the match, the shotmakers collaborated on a stirring duel that saw Murray run down a net-cord shot and flick a lunging forehand stab winner.

Showing no signs of strain from his five-set marathon, Dimitrov was moving with vigor and forcing Murray to play extended rallies.

The two-time Olympic gold-medal champion played an abysmal game hitting two double faults in a row and dumping a pair of forehands gifting Dimitrov his second love break of the set and a 5-3 lead. Dimitrov ran off 10 of the final 11 points, bolting a 118 mph ace along the way, to serve out the 64-minute opening set.

The 36-year-old Murray needed a stand after that physical first set, but he sputtered dropping his opening service game for the second straight set. Dimitrov pounded a diagonal forehand as he earned his third break.

The former world No. 3 confirmed the break at 15 for a 2-0 second-set lead.

Drilling a 121 mph ace down the T, Dimitrov held with a loud “come on!” for 4-2. Murrays’ best look to crack serve came in the eighth game when Dimitrov hit two of his six double faults to face a break point. The ensuing point escalated into a long rally that ended with Murray scattering his signature shot, the backhand, on a passing shot attempt.

Dimitrov defused the stress and served out the second set whipping the wide serve and stroking a forehand into the opposite corner to collect a two-set lead.

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A flagging Murray hooked a crosscourt forehand wide, surrendering serve to start the third set with a break.

The 2012 US Open champion broke right back to level after two games.

When Murray tried to change direction off the Dimitrov slithering slice he sometimes missed the mark. Murray scattered a backhand down the line as Dimitrov earned the third straight break for a 2-1 third-set lead.

Two surprising aspects of Murray’s performance today: His inability to make inroads on the Bulgarian’s second serve and the fact he made some crucial backhand misses.

The backhand is the bedrock of Murray’s game but he pasted his two-hander into net as Dimitrov registered his sixth break for a commanding 4-1 third-set lead.

"I mean, it's obviously disappointing to not play how you would like, you know," Murray said. "But maybe I need to accept that, you know, these events, I had the deep runs and everything that I felt like I'm capable of, they might not be there, as well.

"So, you know, I'm aware what I'm doing, it's unbelievably challenging to play at the highest level as I am now. And yeah, some days it's harder than others. But yeah, today is obviously a really disappointing defeat and probably the manner of it as well."

Serving at 1-5, Murray saved two match points only to see Dimitrov flick a running topspin backhand pass for a third match point.

Murray double faulted into net as Dimitrov closed in two hours, 46 minutes.


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