Taylor Dent’s comeback story ended thanks to Andy Murray. The 2008 U.S. Open runner-up just had too much game for the 28 year-old American, coasting to a straight sets 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory at Ashe in Flushing tonight.
Against a good opponent whose serve-and-volley style tested his return game, the No.2 seeded Scot had all the answers in a virtuoso performance that makes him a strong contender to dethrone Roger Federer.
Amazingly enough, Murray got almost every powerful Dent serve back failing to return only six. That included two 145 MPH aces from the passionate guy who tried his best to make it a match with some crafty volleys which made for entertaining tennis.
But nothing was stopping Murray who after trading breaks in the first three games ratcheted up his level with a returning exhibition that made Tennis Channel analyst and former five-time Open winner Jimmy Connors proud. The precision with which he played made it difficult on Dent.
With the opening set still on serve at 4-3, Great Britain’s only hope at erasing Fred Perry’s name from the record book made his move earning a second break with a passing shot. He then served it out.
Dent continued to remain aggressive getting into net often but while he stuck to his game plan, the grinding Murray countered with quality shot making which included several of his 39 winners. Even when Dent had the edge in rallies with nifty touch, the younger 22 year-old scrambled after lob volleys running down every shot sending a message.
His return game was so effective that it made Dent pick his spots with the big man often staying back on second serves. Not shockingly, he didn’t win many points on seconds with Murray claiming 16 of 27. So much of a zone was he that he broke Dent consecutively to cruise through the middle set putting a damper on what fans came to see.
By the final set, even though Dent held twice for 2-1, the collective writing was on the wall because Murray was holding easily continuing to put the pressure squarely on his opponent’s shoulders. Eventually, his persistence paid off with a break for 3-2 thanks to some splendid return winners from both sides of the racket.
Though he didn’t get many chances converting one of two for the match, Dent had one opportunity to get it back. But Murray quickly erased it with a service winner taking the next couple of points for 4-2.
With the crowd sensing the end, they continued to urge the underdog on. But Murray would have none of it continuing to punish Dent serves by producing even more return passes. Clearly after dropping a set in his second round win, nothing was stopping him.
Even the net cord was on his side with a backhand fooling Dent to help get the double break that allowed him to serve out the match.
On his second match point, he punctuated it with a perfect backhand lob that initially was ruled out. But from the naked eye, it looked to catch part of the line. Obviously, Murray challenged and the replay showed that it barely got the edge giving him a third round victory.
The road will get tougher with 19 year-old Croat Marin Cilic next up in the Round of 16. The 16th seed was a 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 winner over Denis Istomin.
Also in that part of the section No.6 seeded Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro advanced in four sets over Austrian Daniel Koellerer 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. Last year’s quarterfinalist aims for a second straight against 2003 finalist Juan Carlos Ferrero (24), who moved on when No.9 Frenchman Gilles Simon retired. Ferrero led 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 1-0.
If the higher seeds advance, it would setup a quarter rematch between Murray and Del Potro which Andy won in four last year.
Meanwhile, No.3 seeded Rafael Nadal kept it going with a straight set win over Spanish countryman Nicolas Almagro 7-5, 6-4, 6-4. The six-time slam winner won without a problem despite needing the trainer to treat a reinjured abdominal strain late in the third set. The tough champ closed it out in style with a whipping backhand crosscourt before getting a pat on the back from Almagro.
“I don’t want to talk about injuries,” Nadal pointed out. “Sorry. No, no. I am a little bit tired to talk about injuries.”
Who could blame him? He gives his all every point and will need to even more against electrifying 13 seed Gael Monfils, who ousted Jose Acasuso in straights 6-3, 6-4, 6-1. No doubt Monfils speed and athleticism along with shot ability should be a good test for Rafa in Round Four.
The winner gets either No.7 Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or No.11 Chilean Fernando Gonzalez. Each posted straight set wins over Julien Benneteau and Tomas Berdych respectively.
In the women’s portion of the night session, it was 10th seeded Italian Flavia Pennetta showing true mettle by saving six match points late in the second including a pair in a tiebreak before pulling out a well earned 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-0 win over No.7 Russian Vera Zvonareva. For her trouble, she draws defending champ Serena Williams in the quarters.
Unfortunately, the bigger story was Zvonareva, who imploded even letting off some steam at the chair umpire during a changeover about a bad tape job on a her knee.
“I knew I didn’t have the physical ability for a third set,” the emotional Russian admitted while denying she lost it. “I knew that in the middle of the second set.”
“She’s always like this,” the triumphant Pennetta assessed. “I know her. She can cry on the court, and then next point she fight and she play good tennis.”
Note: Fourteen of the top 16 men have advanced to the Round of 16 setting a new mark at the Open. The previous high was a dozen back in 1992. The 14 also matched a grand slam record set at the 2007 Australian Open. Their record is 28-2 entering Week Two with just No.5 Andy Roddick (John Isner in 5) and Simon (ret. vs Ferrero in 4) eliminated.