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Murray Highlights Blah Day at Open

Labor Day at the U.S. Open was anything but a holiday for tennis, as a succession of negative news unfortunately complemented a brutally dull day at the National Tennis Center.

The first downer occurred midday when it was announced that Mardy Fish had withdrawn from his fourth-round match against Roger Federer for health reasons. Earlier this year Fish disclosed his battle with a heart ailment, which created tremendous anxiety for the veteran American. His pullout against Federer will surely plant questions that the perpetual supporting player's career may be near an end.

In a moment of stunning candor or callous disrespect, CBS broadcaster and former player Justin Gimelstob said: "Is the physical presupposing the mental, or is the
mental presupposing the physical? It is symbolic that he's playing one of the biggest matches of his career against the greatest of all time, where expectations should be at an all-time low, and he couldn't even take the court. So he's depressed, he's disappointed, he's sad and he's stressed. Pressure is a privilege, and Mardy Fish needs to embrace that."

I'm sure many will take issue with Gimelstob's apparent suggestion that Fish wasn't mentally up to the task of competing.

Also Monday, Rafael Nadal - who is already an absentee - said he probably would not be on the court for the rest of 2012 due to his knee tendinitis, which has apparently morphed into a torn tendon. One can only hope Nadal will recover as completely as he did from his last major injury in 2009.

Monday also was a day of routs, something fans are not accustomed to at this stage of the tournament. All fourth-round matches were straight-set affairs, a matter none too comforting for the tens of thousands of spectators who paid good sums to view these drubbings from unappealing vantage points.

Since the Grand Slam events increased the number of seeds from 16 to 32 in 2001, the major tournaments have been robbed of intriguing matchups in the first three rounds. While it is obviously fairer to players to have so many seeds, it has undoubtedly had a deleterious effect on the first week of Slams.

In Monday's evening session, Andy Murray put on a clinic while dispatching Milos Raonic, the 15th seed and an assumed future star. It was a superb effort from Murray, who only two days ago was back to his old habits of trying to find ways to lose. Against the talented if perennially and frustratingly inconsistent Feliciano Lopez of Spain in the third round, Murray seemed determined to prolong what should have been an easy victory. The Andy of old was present, looking tired and irritable.

But against the 21-year-old Raonic, who Murray knew possesses a lethal game based on an extraordinary serve, Murray was in control the entire time. Most impressive was the way Murray outserved Raonic. He accomplished this via his stellar return game, which increased the pressure on Raonic to claim the match solely via his serve.

After Raonic had the upper hand in the first set, blazing six aces by Murray in his first three service games, Murray's returning prowess started to take control of the match. By simply chipping the ball back into play, Murray frustrated Raonic and forced the Canadian to go for too much, especially on second serves. And since Raonic's backcourt game is still undeveloped, Murray's confidence was apparent. He knew Raonic had little to counter his all-court acumen.

Watching Murray in full control of his varied arsenal - brilliant return of serve, superb drop shot, well-disguised backhand - it's easy to believe this is finally the time for the formerly moody Scot. With coach Ivan Lendl having made a palpable difference in Murray's game and demeanor, it just feels like Murray is finally ready to win a Slam.

Next up for Murray is a quarterfinal clash against Marin Cilic, another huge server who is blessed with exceptional footwork for a man who stands 6 feet, 5 inches. Though Cilic will surely provide a formidable challenge, it's hard to imagine that Murray would lose, especially if he is in as fine form as he was Monday night.

It's likely that Murray and Federer are again on a collision course, this time in the semifinals. Federer was the unfortunate beneficiary of Fish's withdrawal, and he'll have additional time to physically prepare for his quarterfinal encounter against Tomas Berdych.

Award-winning columnist Tim Joyce provides regular commentary for RealClearSports on Sundays and Tuesdays. Email: joyce.timothy@gmail.com

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