By Simon Evans
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Andy Murray's U.S. Open title defence ended with barely a whimper as he crashed to a 6-4 6-3 6-2 defeat in the quarter-finals to ninth-seeded Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka on Thursday.
The British third seed looked a shadow of the player who won Wimbledon two months ago, turning in a listless display against an opponent who sensed his weakness from the outset and went in for the kill.
Murray has not looked at his best since his triumph at the All England Club but the manner and margin of his loss at Arthur Ashe Stadium was nonetheless a shock.
The Scotsman did not create a single break point in the game but he was also up against an opponent whose attacking instincts paid off with some superb winning strokes as he took his place in the last four of a grand slam for the first time.
"He played great. He hit big shots. He passed extremely well. He hit a lot of lines on big points. He served well. That was it. He played a great match," said a dejected Murray.
Wawrinka will face the winner of Thursday's other quarter-final between top-seeded Serbian Novak Djokovic and Russian 21st seed Mikhail Youzhny and he sounded genuinely surprised at upsetting Murray.
"It feels amazing for sure, especially here. He's defending champion, he's a tough opponent. It was a crazy match for me. To beat him in three sets is just amazing," he said.
The match turned in Wawrinka's favour at the end of the opening set, which was on serve at 5-4 to the Swiss but ended in an enthralling 10th game.
Murray made several errors but still managed to save five set points. He finally gave up the set when he sent a forehand long and responded by angrily smashing his racket onto the court.
"That was the hardest part of the match, the 5-4 game in the first set was important game. I had a chance to close it out, he had quite a few chances. I made a few mistakes," said Murray.
"But I mean, for the most part I didn't create break point chance, so he served well."
The strong breezes which popped in and out of centre court had impacted the rhythm of both players but the 10th game was the turning point.
"The first set was not really easy," Wawrinka said. "It was really windy, both of us were trying to find our game. To get the first set for me gave me confidence for the rest of the match," said Wawrinka.
The violent frustration Murray showed at the end of the first set, leaving his racket a wrangled wreck, might have indicated a more aggressive Murray to come.
But his struggles extended to the second set where he allowed his opponent triple break point in the sixth game, which Wawrinka took advantage of with a superb backhand winner down the line.
Wawrinka held his serve to take the second set and his joyful reaction illustrated his belief that a first grand slam semi-finals appearance was within his reach.
A double fault on break point from Murray in the third game of the final set summed up his afternoon and the match was put beyond him with a brilliant forehand winner from the Swiss broke Murray again to go up 5-2.
After winning Olympic gold and his first two grand slams, Murray put his loss into the context of a great run of form.
"I lost in straight sets so that's disappointing and I would liked to have gone further," said Murray.
"But, look, I can't complain. If someone told me before the U.S. Open last year I would have been here as defending champion having won Wimbledon and Olympic gold, I would have taken that 100 percent.
"I'm disappointed but the year as a whole has been a good one." (Editing by Frank Pingue)