To borrow a line from Jerzy Janowicz, HOW MANY TIMES have we built up a match between Ernests Gulbis and a quality opponent, only to see it disintegrate into an unwatchable mess? It was for that reason that I didn’t get my hopes up before the Latvian’s third-rounder with Andy Murray; the match that had me more excited on today’s schedule was the one that preceded it, featuring Janowicz and Rafael Nadal.
The crowd in Montreal seemed to feel the same way—on television at least, the atmosphere was lacking. In fact, the loudest cheers I heard were from a nearby court, where Canada’s Vasek Pospisil was taking the first set from Tomas Berdych. So the spotlight wasn’t at its brightest, but that may have been the best thing for Gulbis, who more often than not crumbles under expectation.
Of course, both players did their parts to contribute to the result, a surprisingly one-sided, 6-4, 6-3 win for Gulbis, his first over Murray in six meetings. The Wimbledon champion looked more like the passive player we saw in years past, waiting for his opponent to make mistakes instead of forcing them. Gulbis didn’t hold up that end of the deal, and Murray’s winner-to-error ratio was the inferior one at 12 to 19.
The Scot, one of the finest hard-court players on tour, seemed to be hamstrung by the fast surface and Gulbis’ blasts on it. Should we have read more into Murray's tough second-round win over Marcel Granollers, his first match since SW19? Gulbis rendered Murray’s defensive tactics ineffective today, unloading on a healthy number of short balls and weak serves. Murray won just 38 percent of his second serves on the day and paid dearly for that in the ninth game of the first set, in which he was broken at 4-4.
Having served out the opening set, Gulbis kept Murray in the doldrums to begin the second, showing impressive touch at net (he was nine of 10 with his volleys) and with lobs. More than once did Murray watch a ball sail over his head and catch the court, and by the final game, trailing 5-3, the world No. 2 was perhaps expecting another lob when he ventured forward. Instead, Gulbis struck a clean pass. Murray barely extended his racquet toward the ball, signaling his imminent defeat.
It was mostly all working for Gulbis today, and that includes the big forehands and backhands he’s known for. The opposite was true for Murray, who brought none of the energy we saw throughout Wimbledon to this U.S. Open tune-up. Down a break in the second set, Murray broke back and held for 3-3, but it was not the turning point many fans surely expected. And so in a most unexpected fashion, Gulbis moves on to the quarterfinals, where he’ll play the winner of Juan Martin del Potro and Milos Raonic. Murray moves on to Cincinnati, looking to put a largely laconic performance in Quebec behind him.