New York:Andy Murray treats returning serves as vital to his game as firing them at opponents. As a result, he might just make his biggest return of all - to the US Open final.
The British second seed who lost his first Grand Slam final here last year to Roger Federer defeated US 195th-ranked US wildcard Taylor Dent 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in the feature night match at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The 22-year-old Scotsman, trying to become the first British man to win a Slam title since Fred Perry in 1936, will play for a quarter-final spot against Croatian 16th seed Marin Cilic, who beat Uzbek Denis Istomin 6-1, 6-4, 6-3.
Murray, who matched Novak Djokovic with a tour-best 56th season triumph, fired 39 winners and seven aces against only 13 unforced errors and overpowered Dent, back at the elite level after missing two years for major back surgery.
"He doesn't miss," Dent said. "He made it look and feel like I served underhanded out there at times.
"He put stuff by me. I was trying to mix stuff up, give him different looks. I think he's number one in the world at breaking people and that makes sense."
Murray has coach Miles MacLagan fire practice serves at him from halfway between the baseline and service line before every match.
"It's something I practice a lot," Murray said. "I view the return as being as important as the serve. I have Miles serve at me from just behind the service line so obviously I'm used to returning hard serves."
In three matches against three different rivals, Murray has changed his game to fit his foes.
"That's the most important thing, to return differently against every player," Murray said. "You need to make sure you adapt your game properly. That can sometimes take a bit longer. You need to make sure you are ready from the start.
"I thought I dealt with the tests that were put in front of me pretty well and I hope to continue to play like that for the next few matches."
His next test will be tall fireball-server Cilic. Murray defeated Cilic in straight sets in the fourth round of the French Open, but the Flushing Meadows hardcourts will be a far different test that the red clay of Roland Garros.
"He has a big serve and moves pretty well for a big guy. I have to be on my game," Murray said.
"It's going to be a tough match," Murray said. "I will have to return well against him and be solid from the back of the court because I'm not going to get many free points on my own serve."
Murray moved past six-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal last month into the world number two ranking and while he cannot overtake Roger Federer for the top spot at the US Open, he could avenge last year's Flushing Meadows final loss to the Swiss star if they both reach a title rematch next Sunday.
The path into the final for Murray could include matchups with Argentine sixth seed Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarter-finals and Nadal in the semi-finals.
Murray has captured five titles this season, level with Nadal for the most on tour this season. The British sensation has won at Montreal, Queen's, Miami, Doha and Rotterdam.