Kei Nishikori shocked world number two Andy Murray to storm into a second semi-final at the US Open after a roller-coaster five-set win at Flushing Meadows. The 2014 runner-up trailed by a set and a break before producing a stunning comeback to win 1-6 6-4 4-6 6-1 7-5 and set up a last four clash with either Juan Martin del Potro or Stanislas Wawrinka.
The British number one Murray had been in complete control after strolling to the opening set and then breaking in the second, as he honed in on a third semi-final appearance in New York. But Nishikori rallied, levelling the match either side of two rain delays which eventually forced the Arthur Ashe Stadium roof to be closed.
Murray took the third set but a run of six games from the number six seed, which included the 2012 champion being distracted by a faulty public address system and a butterfly around the net, saw the momentum of the contest change once again and helped Nishikori square the contest and take a break in the fifth. A break did follow for a jaded Murray but he was unable to consolidate, allowed Nishikori to claim his first quarter-final win since his final appearance two years ago.
Defeat ends a run of one defeat since May for Murray, sees him miss out on a fouth straight grand slam final and curtails his hopes of usurping Novak Djokovic as world number one before the end of 2016, while for Nishikori he remains hopeful of claiming a first major title as he marches in just his second career semi-final.
Nishikori had never recorded a victory over Murray in eight previous meetings – his only win coming via a retirement in 2013 – but the Japanese player began in encouraging fashion as he went to 0-40 in the Brit's opening service game. But Murray would save each of the break point chances, yet it was just the start of the topsy-turvy nature of the match.
The three-time grand slam champion took immediate control and broke in game four as he dealt better with the fading American sun and hit the spot with a brilliant two-handed backhand. The errors then flowing from the Nishikori racket – his groundstrokes failing to supplement his sublime movement – and Murray took full advantage as he took the opening set in just 35 minutes
A brief rain delay threatened to disrupt the number two seed's momentum as Nishikori responded with his best point of the match, finished with a deft backhand volley. However, Murray was unperturbed and broke for a second time in the contest through an unforced Nishikori error as his frustration began to tell.
The 2014 runner-up evoked the fighting spirit of coach Michael Chang by levelling the second set straight away via a lethal forehand but was forced to wait to consolidate the break back, as the rain forced a suspension of play and the roof to be closed. The first point after the resumption went the way of Nishikori to hand him the 4-3 lead.
Murray did level but Nishikori continued to hold the momentum and benefitted as the Briton dumped a backhand into the net to help his opponent level the match in unlikely fashion. The pair then exchanged breaks at the start of the third amid an uncertain restart but it was Murray who took the initiative again at the crucial moment to break in game seven.
The ebb and flow nature of the contest saw Nishikori level again, only for a third break in a row to go the way of Murray; a lead he would not scupper as he took the third set to edge ahead again. Despite Murray having taken control, he continued to be aggravate and was upset when a noise from the stadium sound system forced a point in game three of the fourth set to be stopped.
The incident led to Murray unleashing a tirade in the direction of umpire Marija Cicak and it distracted his concentration as Nishikori claimed a break and stormed into a 4-1 lead. An errant butterfly then disrupted Murray's attempts to keep the set alive as a second break followed to take the match into a decider.
Though Murray had won 16 of his last 18 matches which had gone to five sets, it was Nishikori who took the lead in the fifth with a break at the start of the set, before a successful challenge saw him claim a 2-0 advantage. A forehand down the line helped Murray hold from his next service game – to break a run of six in a row from Nishikori – and the success appeared to reinvigorate him.
And from the second break point chance in game four, Murray squared the match but parity was only temporary. Nishikori broke back straight away via a superb backhand passing winner as the quarter-final took another unlikely twist.
Just five points away from the semi-final, Nishikori could smell the checkered flag but he was denied by an increasingly weary-looking Murray, who broke again to level at 4-4 before taking the lead with a credible hold. Nishikori successfully held to stay in the match and the display of mental fortitude paid dividends as he broke to serve for a semi-final place, which he duly did to send Murray packing.