Light lift for the men, Sharapova rolls

NEW YORK -- It's been a relatively easy stroll through the U.S. Open draw for the top men's players.

No. 1 seed Roger Federer got a free pass in the fourth round when Mardy Fish withdrew as a medical precaution, and on Wednesday, No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic escaped in two sets and small change when Stanislas Wawrinka retired.

No. 3 Andy Murray wasn't so fortunate.

The Olympic gold medalist, viewed as one of the favorites here based on the momentum he created in London, suddenly found himself two points from a two-set deficit to Marin Cilic at 1-5, 15-30.

Somehow, the 25-year-old Scot broke Cilic twice, and won a dramatic tiebreaker and ultimately the 3-hour match 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-0.

Incredibly, Murray won 17 of the last 20 games and ran off a string of 11 in a row. Cilic, whose attention has been known to wander, did not acquit himself well.

Murray had won six of seven previous matches against the 23-year-old from Croatia, including the quarterfinals at this year's Wimbledon.

Reign check for the Roland Garros champion: Maria Sharapova was trailing Marion Bartoli 0-4 when rain suspended play Tuesday.

It was a huge break for Sharapova, who at the time was flustered and frustrated. She came back Wednesday with a fresh attitude and a firmer serve, which eventually carried her past Bartoli 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

When Bartoli won the first set, it was the first time in her career she managed to take a set from Sharapova. As it stands, the career head-to-head record in sets is now 10-1.

Sharapova's greatest weapon is her resolve. She hasn't lost a three-set match since last year -- when she fell in the third round here to Flavia Pennetta. Sharapova is 23-1 in three-setters over the past two years.

"That's a great statistic," Sharapova said. "It shows that I enjoy the battle no matter what the score is. The third set, it's the last set out there, and there's no reason why you shouldn't put everything out there. That's how I kind of treat those situations."

Frenemies for a day: They are best friends and doubles partners, but on Wednesday, they were opponents.

Not surprisingly, Sara Errani won that quarterfinal struggle with Roberta Vinci 6-2, 6-4. It was over in a scant 72 minutes. The No. 10 seed here is a superior singles player, having reached the French Open final before losing to Maria Sharapova.

Errani, the 25-year-old Italian, had never advanced past the third round of a Grand Slam until this year. She was a surprise quarterfinalist at the Australian Open before her major breakthrough in Paris. And now, she's into the semifinals here, to face Serena Williams.

"There is many tension[s]," Errani said. "Was strange to see her on the other side of the net. It's the best year of my life, of course. Two or three years ago for me, it was a bit difficult going on the court and feeling that I can win with the best players.

"Now I feel that a bit different. I feel when I'm on the court that I can fight with anybody."

It's a remarkable feat for a 5-foot-4 player who relies on guile and a variety of tricky spins to survive against larger, more powerful opponents.

The run is over: The Harrison brothers, Christian and Ryan, went all the way to the men's doubles quarterfinals, upsetting the No. 4-seeded team along the way. On Wednesday, however, they fell to the No. 9 team of Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and Jean-Julien Rojer 6-2, 6-3.

Christian, 18, and Ryan, 20, went further than any other Americans -- except for the Bryan brothers, who defeated Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut in their quarterfinal match.

Rafa still aiming for 2012: Rafael Nadal's doctor insisted Wednesday that his patient plans to return to match play in two months.

That will be a feat, since the ATP World Tour year-end championships in London are scheduled to begin in exactly two months.

Dr. Angel Ruiz Cotorro confirmed to Marca.com that Nadal is suffering from a partially torn patella tendon in his knee and that surgery is not needed. The injury is responding, he said, and Nadal is expected to return to the practice courts in about a month.