MASON, Ohio – Andy Murray needed three sets in the afternoon heat and more than a little help in the tiebreaker to avoid a huge upset.
His scream after the final shot? The sound of survival more than celebration.
The fourth-ranked player was off his game Thursday, but managed to take advantage of Ernests Gulbis' erratic shots — especially in the tiebreaker — for a 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (4) victory that sent him into the quarterfinals of the Cincinnati Masters.
Second-ranked Roger Federer also reached the quarterfinals when Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber withdrew because of a sore right shoulder. Third-ranked Novak Djokovic advanced by beating David Nalbandian 6-1, 7-6 (7).
Murray moved on with far more stagger than swagger.
The 23-year-old Scot won his second straight Rogers Cup championship in Toronto on Sunday, beating Federer to defend his title. He's had trouble in Cincinnati, where the faster courts have knocked him off his game and forced him to go three sets in both of his matches.
Fatigue may be setting in, too.
Murray looked worn down during his match against the 21-year-old Gulbis, who was the youngest player left in the field. He repeatedly bent over and tried to catch his breath after long rallies in the 85-degree heat. At one point, he came up limping slightly.
It never was easy.
Murray got his serve broken to open the match and was soon talking to himself and swatting balls away in frustration. He evened the match after two sets by taking advantage of the Latvian's frequent mistakes — 42 unforced errors overall.
It was surprising that Gulbis kept up. He started the season well, beating Roger Federer in May and climbing to a career-best ranking at No. 27. He hurt his right hamstring and missed more than two months. When he returned last week in Washington, he had to quit in the second round because he couldn't handle the heat.
This time, he handled the heat but couldn't put Murray away.
Gulbis repeatedly misfired on shots when he had a chance to take control. He became so upset after he was broken in the opening game of the third set that he slammed his racket against the court, picked it up and did it again. The twisted red-and-white racket rested next to his courtside chair for the rest of the match, reminding him of those wasted moments.
Gulbis' worst moments came in the third-set tiebreaker. He hit a backhand into the net, sailed a forehand, then plopped a forehand into the net, giving Murray a 3-0 lead. When Gulbis sailed another forehand, Murray was up 6-1 and in position to close out the 2-hour, 33-minute match.
Federer has had the easiest time this week. He played only 28 minutes in his opening match before qualifier Denis Istomin pulled up with an injured right foot and had to quit on Wednesday night. Federer didn't even leave the locker room on Thursday.
Kohlschreiber's shoulder became stiff a few days earlier and began to hurt at the start of a three-set match on Wednesday. When he warmed up during practice on Thursday, he felt pain in the shoulder, prompting him to schedule an MRI.
"I started to make some smashes and serves and everything hurt pretty much," he said.