NEW YORK — Disappointed.
That was the word Andy Murray used over and over to describe how he felt about his exit from the U.S. Open.
After all, Murray arrived at Flushing Meadows ranked No. 2, owner of a tour-leading 37 wins on hard courts this season – and quite sure he was prepared to win his first Grand Slam title a year after reaching the U.S. Open final. Instead, he heads home after the fourth round, a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 loser to No. 16 Marin Cilic of Croatia on Tuesday.
"I just struggled today. I played poorly," Murray said. "I could have been better in pretty much every part of the game, whether it was mental or serve, forehand, backhand, returns."
And now Murray will slide back to No. 3 in the rankings, a spot behind Rafael Nadal, who will move up by virtue of beating No. 13 Gael Monfils 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 in Tuesday night's last match to get to the quarterfinals.
Nadal-Monfils featured two men often cited as the best athletes on tour, and it was a spirited contest early, filled with long points, terrific retrieving, powerful hitting – and animated celebrations by both. Monfils eventually began to show signs of fatigue, leaning over to gasp for air between points, and Nadal took control.
Nadal, trying to complete a career Grand Slam by winning the U.S. Open, will meet No. 11 Fernando Gonzalez of Chile in the semifinals. Gonzalez eliminated No. 7 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3), 6-4.
"First thing that I have to try is play my tennis," Gonzalez said. "If I don't play my tennis, I mean, I have no chance."
Murray definitely had his chances. Ahead 5-4, he wasted two set points. By the second set, Murray was grimacing while flexing his left wrist, which he acknowledged afterward had been bothering him for about a week. By the third, Murray was moping about the court.
"Regardless of my wrist, I lost the match," Murray said. "I returned poorly. He served well – and that was really the difference."
Murray's loss, at least for one evening, turned into the talk of a tournament that had been generating very little buzz about the men's field. Instead, the focus has been on the women's event, thanks to the surprising emergence of 17-year-old American Melanie Oudin and the quick comeback of former No. 1 Kim Clijsters.
Oudin plays in the first major quarterfinal of her nascent career Wednesday – she obliged autograph-seekers after practicing Tuesday – and Clijsters already is into the semifinals, where she will face a Williams for the second time this tournament.
Clijsters beat Venus Williams in the fourth round; now she will take on defending champion Serena Williams, who improved to 23-1 in Grand Slam singles matches this season by beating No. 10 Flavia Pennetta of Italy 6-4, 6-3 Tuesday night.
Looking ahead to facing Clijsters, the younger Williams said: "She's such a great person and I, like, only wish the best for her. But not in the next match."
The 27-year-old American and 26-year-old Belgian both have 12-match winning streaks at the U.S. Open. Clijsters won the first seven en route to the 2005 title, the last time she played in New York, and now has five this year, the last a 6-2, 6-4 win against 18th-seeded Li Na of China.
Still unranked because she only had played in two tournaments before the U.S. Open, Clijsters is the first unseeded player to reach the semifinals at Flushing Meadows since Elena Dementieva in 2000.
"I'm surprised to be sitting here talking to you right now," said Clijsters, who has beaten Serena Williams only once in eight matches.
Clijsters left the game in 2007, married American basketball player Brian Lynch later that year, then gave birth to daughter Jada in February 2008. Since returning to competition in August, Clijsters is 10-2.
Two more wins, and she'll be the first mother to win a Grand Slam tournament since Evonne Goolagong Cawley at Wimbledon in 1980.
"I still have an immense respect for all the Grand Slams and the history that's happened in each and every one of them," Clijsters said, "but it's easier now to push that aside when you're out there and just focus on your game and not be too worried or too impressed by everything that's happening around you."
Murray's hopes of becoming the first British man since the 1930s to win a Grand Slam championship will have to be set aside until 2010. The pressure back home for success will only increase, matched by Murray's self-imposed expectations.
When he wasn't saying, "I'm obviously very disappointed," or "I'm going to be disappointed, but I'll have to go and work on some things," Murray was talking about being "ready to win a Slam in Australia."
"Next year I've got a very, very good chance of doing it," Murray said. "I think I'll be a better player next year than this year, and, you know, hopefully I'll do that."
Cilic, meanwhile, advanced to the first major quarterfinal of his career.
"I'm feeling tremendously happy," Cilic said. "Of course, it's the biggest result for me, so far."
Next for him is a match against No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro, who beat 2003 French Open champion and U.S. Open finalist Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.
Cilic vs. del Potro will pit two players who are 20, with lanky frames and big serves.
"For sure, if he beat Murray, he's confident," said del Potro, who pushed Roger Federer to five sets in the French Open semifinals this year. "It will be very tough for me."