Andy MURRAY admitted he struggled with his breathing in very humid conditions after seeing off Germany’s Florian Mayer in straight sets in the third round of the US Open.
The defending champion endured a difficult first set on Arthur Ashe, where he never looked comfortable, but he upped his level in the tie-break and dominated the second and third sets yesterday evening.
Murray was only on court for a minute under two hours but looked drained as he finished off a 7-6 (7/2), 6-2, 6-2 victory.
The Scot said: “It was tough conditions. It was very, very humid. With the way that he plays, it was a tough match, especially the beginning, but I started the second set well. I started hitting the ball a little bit cleaner, was more aggressive after that, and finished it well.
“I was struggling breathing for most of the match.”
Murray spends a lot of his time training in Miami to prepare him for such conditions, but the effect of his latest block last month has largely worn off.
He said: “You can get used to something, and then if you aren’t in those conditions for five weeks or four weeks – it’s been four and a half weeks since I’ve been in Miami – that doesn’t always just stay with you. Suddenly it’s extremely humid and you’re playing right in the heat of the day. That takes time to get used to.”
Mayer is a tricky customer with an unorthodox double-handed slice backhand who had given Murray a tough time in both their previous meetings.
The first game contained plenty of drama, with three break points, two HawkEye challenges and two overrules, but Mayer eventually held.
Murray did not look very comfortable, holding his left hip in the way he does when his troublesome back is playing up.
At times his first serves were well under 100mph, and his first-serve percentage was very low, but he was still not in any real danger of being broken.
And he made a great start to the tie-break, winning the first four points which proved more than enough of a lead to clinch the set.
Murray had loosened up now and he took an early lead in the second set with a break in the second game, drilling two backhand winners down the line.
He had to save a first break point in the next game, but he was playing much closer to the baseline and with a lot more energy.
His groundstrokes were flatter and a fizzing forehand brought up a first set point on the Mayer serve, which Murray took. The conditions were clearly sapping the Scot’s energy, so winning in three sets was a priority. He took a big step towards that with another break in the fourth game of the third set and closed out the set 6-2.
Next up for Murray is a fourth-round encounter with world No. 65 Denis Istomin, who he beat in their only previous match in Brisbane in January. Istomin beat 20th seed Andreas Seppi 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 3-6, 6-1.
Tomas Berdych served notice to all the title favourites with a demolition of Julien Benneteau to reach the fourth round.
There the Czech will play Stanislas Wawrinka, and if he gets past the ninth seed then a clash with third seed Murray is likely to await in the quarter-finals.
It was at that stage last year that Berdych shocked Roger Federer before a gale undermined his efforts to do the same to Murray in the semi-finals.
The 27-year-old is a man all the top players are wary of facing, and he beat Murray in the quarter-finals in Cincinnati two weeks ago.
Benneteau was the 31st seed but he had no answer to Berdych, the fifth seed racing to a 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 victory.
Wawrinka had a much tougher time against Marcos Baghdatis, who has rediscovered his form after a terrible run between February and July.
Wawrinka won the first two sets, but Baghdatis responded in the third and had an early break in the fourth, only for the Swiss to take the tie-break for a 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (1/7), 7-6, (9/7) win.
Former champion Lleyton Hewitt continued his great run with a 6-3, 7-6 (7/5), 3-6, 6-1 victory over Russia’s Evgeny Donskoy, while it will be the first year ever that no American man has made the fourth round in singles at any slam and the first time ever at the US Open after wildcard Tim Smyczek lost in five sets to Marcel Granollers. Twelfth seed Tommy Haas is out, the German falling 6-3, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 to volatile Russian Mikhail Youzhny.
Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic enjoyed a crushing win over Portugal’s Joao Sousa in the third round early this morning and will play Granollers in the last 16.