Rogers Cup is Andy Murray’s in Toronto
There was a lot of baggage on both sides of the net for the culmination of the Canadian Masters in Toronto.
The two protagonists, Roger Federer and Andy Murray, had last faced off in the final of the Australian Open at the very beginning of the year. That turned out to be Federer’s only title of 2010 so far, and Murray had still not won a single tournament.
In the aftermath of that straight sets mauling, Murray seemed to lose both confidence and form. But the US Open Series is his favourite time of year on his favourite surface. He likes America, and the Americans like him.
The Murray-Federer head-to-head was also reason for confidence, favouring the Scot 6-5, with all his wins have come on hard courts. And Federer might have won their last three matches but his fortunes since Melbourne had seesawed dramatically.
Murray’s return to form began to show through in Los Angeles, where he reached the final. He then grew in confidence through each successive round in Toronto, trouncing Rafael Nadal in the semis, 6-3, 6-4.
Federer, for his part, was also starting to show the positive effects of some new tactics in his first tournament since Wimbledon. He took out the seventh and the second seeds in two long, tough matches. But could he contain the Murray whirlwind?
As if to crank up the tension further, the Toronto weather chose this moment to take centre stage, just as it had done on the first day of the tournament.
Finally, after a 25-minute delay to the start of the match, Murray was able to launch into his assault just as he had done against Nadal, and broke Federer straight away. As if that was not impressive enough, he held his own service to love and immediately broke Federer again. His success was down to the same tactics that had powered through David Nalbandian in the quarters and Nadal in the semis: attack and aggression.
Federer, though, is not one to take such an onslaught lying down. He hit back with his own break to love through a series of blistering rallies, and then games went with serve until 4-5. As Murray served for the set, Federer attacked again to even things at 5-5.
But serving to take the lead for the first time in the set, Federer showed the same vulnerability that almost lost him both his semi and his quarter matches on the previous two nights. A couple of wayward serves and a missed volley put him on the back foot. Despite some thrilling cat-and-mouse rallies, Federer was broken again, and Murray served out the set crisply and confidently.
Federer began the second set more strongly, winning his service game with ease and taking Murray to 30-30 on his serve. But then the rains came. An hour later, suitably warmed up, Murray sealed his game with two aces.
As Federer stepped up to respond, the umpire halted play to assess the weather. Ten minutes and few spatters of rain later, Federer tried again. His concentration gone, he was broken straight away. Midway through the Murray serve, history repeated, and the players left the court as the heavens opened.
This time, the hour’s break seemed to favour Federer, who turned the tables and broke Murray to level things at 3-3. At last, both men began to play near-faultless tennis simultaneously until 5-5.
Yet Federer, in a worryingly regular pattern, faltered one more time, and Murray broke him to serve for the set. Federer produced a last flurry of winners to return the game to deuce three times before Murray closed out the victory 7-5,7-5.
After such a long period in the titles wilderness, the win was clearly an emotional moment for Murray. His first action was to walk into the crowd to embrace his mother, and he was barely able to conceal the tears as he came back to court.
It was, in truth, two-hours of patchy and inconsistent play over a three-and-a-half hour afternoon that did not allow either player to develop their best games. What it did show, however, was that the new offensive Murray seems here to stay, and that should please experts and fans alike.
With this kind of game, confidence, and mindset, Murray has carved out a strong case to be favourite not only for the Cincinnati Masters this week but, more importantly, the US Open. It could, at last, be Murray’s time.