NEW YORK — An hour-and-a-half into his stay at the U.S. Open, Andy Murray had to wonder whether it would end quickly.
A week later, the same guy who hobbled through head-to-toe cramps in his first-round match looked strong on a day that was even more hot and humid — and now he's in the quarterfinals. The eighth-seeded Murray beat No. 9-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-5, 7-5, 6-4 in 2 hours, 35 minutes on Monday.
"I don't feel like I'm that far away from playing my best tennis," Murray said.
He hasn't reached a tournament final since back surgery late last year. Coming into the U.S. Open, Murray felt he was playing well but lamented that he was struggling to close out matches.
In a tight one against a tough opponent Monday, Murray won enough crucial points to pull out the victory in straight sets.
Tsonga had three break points to go up 3-0 in the third, but Murray fought them off to swing the momentum. He promptly broke in the next game to get the set back on serve, and then closed out the match with another break.
Murray, who still isn't sure why the cramps struck so early in his opening match last Monday, drank too many fluids this time and gave himself a stomachache.
It was a tough draw for both players — and gets even tougher for Murray, who next faces No. 1 Novak Djokovic. That matchup feels much more like a Grand Slam title match than a quarterfinal, and for good reason. Murray and Djokovic have met five times in major tournaments, with four coming in the finals; the other was a semi.
Tsonga rolled into the U.S. Open full of confidence after beating Djokovic, Murray and Roger Federer in Toronto to win the title. In Tsonga's 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4 victory over Murray in early August, he was the one winning the key points in a close match.
"Tennis, it's never a straight line. It's always like this," Tsonga said, tracing peaks and valleys with his hand. "So today, it was like this maybe at the wrong moment."
Murray hasn't been back to a final since becoming the first British man in 77 years to win Wimbledon in July 2013. He beat Djokovic to clinch that title and also defeated him at the 2012 U.S. Open for the first Grand Slam championship by a British man in 76 years.
"Great memories from that match," Murray said in an on-court interview. "Hope we can play another top-level match."
After beating 22nd-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-1, 7-5, 6-4 earlier Monday, Djokovic called the prospect of facing Murray or Tsonga a "very tough, tough draw."
Murray, he said, "knows how to play center court U.S. Open where he played some great tennis and we had some great matches."
They went to five sets twice in 2012, in Djokovic's win in the Australian Open semis and Murray's breakthrough victory in the U.S. Open.
"Long games, long rallies, long points, because we do a lot of the same things well," Murray said.
When Murray's ranking slipped after the surgery, it left him vulnerable to this sort of draw: He could potentially play Tsonga, Djokovic, Australian Open champ Stan Wawrinka and 17-time major winner Roger Federer in the last four rounds. Wawrinka beat 16th-seeded Tommy Robredo 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2 on Monday.
Murray may finally be playing well enough to make that run sound plausible.
"It's still obviously a long way from trying to win the tournament," he said, "but it's only nine sets now, three matches. ... Maybe five, six days away from potentially winning another Grand Slam."
Eugenie Bouchard struggled more with New York's excruciating heat Monday than Murray. She felt dizzy; her vision became blurry; she got her blood pressure checked. Plastic bags filled with ice were rubbed on her shoulders, arms and legs during a second-set medical timeout.
Bouchard tried to carry on, but it was hardly an ideal time to try to win a tennis match. The No. 7-seeded Bouchard became the latest top woman to bow out at this surprise-filled U.S. Open, beaten 7-6 (2), 6-4 Monday by 17th-seeded Ekaterina Makarova in the fourth round.
It ended Bouchard's streak of making at least the semifinals at each Grand Slam tournament this year. That included a runner-up finish at Wimbledon in July; the 20-year-old Canadian is only 4-4 since then.
"I definitely felt a lot of outside expectations and pressure to win matches. I felt more like it's normal if I win and it's a bit more of a disaster when I lose," Bouchard said. "But that's something that I need to block out."
In muggy air, with the temperature in the high 80s, Bouchard began having trouble from the middle of the first set and was checked on by a trainer during the changeover after the second set's fifth game. During that delay, Makarova cooled down by putting ice bags on herself.
Asked what went through her mind during Bouchard's medical break, Makarova smiled.
"Well, actually, I thought, 'Thanks,' because I also was tired," Makarova said with a smile. "It was really (helpful) for me also."
It's not the first time Bouchard has been affected by heat, saying it happened at last year's U.S. Open, too, and as a junior at the Australian Open.
"Once in a while, I get a little bit light-headed," Bouchard said. "That's what happens."
Her exit means that for the first time since 1977, eight women will have filled the eight finalist slots at a season's Grand Slam tournaments.
While Makarova is into the U.S. Open quarterfinals for the second year in a row, Bouchard's early-for-her major exit certainly fits with the way things have gone the past eight days. Of the top 10 seeded women, only two remain: No. 1 Serena Williams and No. 10 Wozniacki.
The top-seeded man, Novak Djokovic, played mostly mistake-free tennis, making only 19 unforced errors and facing only two break points — both saved — in a 6-1, 7-5, 6-4 victory over 22nd-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Djokovic, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, earned a spot in the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open for the eighth year in a row — and at a 22nd consecutive Grand Slam tournament overall. The last time Djokovic was eliminated before the quarterfinals at a major was a third-round loss to Kohlschreiber at the 2009 French Open.
In fourth-round men's matches Monday night, No. 3 Stan Wawrinka brushed off a tumble into the stands and beat No. 16 Tommy Robredo 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2, before No. 5 Milos Raonic played No. 10 Kei Nishikori.
Williams got to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal of 2014 by overwhelming 50th-ranked Kaia Kanepi of Estonia 6-3, 6-3 Monday. Williams has lost 17 games all told — the eighth time she's made it to the U.S. Open quarterfinals dropping that many or fewer.
One of the few glitches came when she tried to serve for the match at 5-2 in the second set, double-faulting twice in a row and getting broken. That, Williams acknowledged, came from feeling a bit of self-imposed pressure after losing in the Australian Open's fourth round, French Open's second round, and Wimbledon's third round.
"I think I felt it in my service game," Williams said. "I'm like, 'Can I please make it to a Grand Slam quarters this year?'"
Pursuing a third straight U.S. Open title and 18th Grand Slam championship, Williams has avoided potential matchups against Kvitova, Bouchard and past major champions Ana Ivanovic and Sam Stosur, who beat Williams in the 2011 U.S. Open final.
Williams is 5-0 against her next opponent, No. 11 Flavia Pennetta of Italy.
"Of course, she's better than me, but if I still believe I can beat her," Pennetta said, "maybe if she doesn't have a good day, I can do that."