Murray beats Federer in 2nd successive Masters final
On paper, this one could have gone either way. Ahead of the Shanghai Masters denouement, numbers three and four in the world had already met in two finals this year and won a title apiece.
Neither had dropped a set along the way in Shanghai, and both were physically in fine shape.
But there were many reasons to suppose that the advantage Andy Murray had in his head-to-head over Roger Federer might take a battering on this occasion. Although he had won the Toronto final, Murray had lost in their three previous meetings, all on Murray’s preferred hard courts: in the Australian Open, in the World Tour finals in London, and in the Cincinnati Masters.
Their progress through the Shanghai draw suggested that Federer was the man to beat. He had taken out John Isner, ranked 20, Andreas Seppi, 58, Robin Soderling, five, and Novak Djokovic, two.
Meanwhile, Murray’s biggest challenge was world No12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, only newly returned from a long injury break, and he made heavy weather of his semi-final win over No41 Juan Monaco.
But two things seemed to play a part in what turned out to be a surprising role reversal.
Federer looked as though his reserves of concentration had been exhausted from beating the best of Djokovic and subduing the big game of Soderling. Meanwhile, Murray’s quiet progress had expended little, either physically or mentally, in the run-up to the final. While Murray’s best was saved for last, Federer’s best had been expended in the one before last.
A Murray in full pomp has the beating of any man on the tour, and that is was Federer faced. Perhaps with an ear to the critics who had accused him of being too passive, Murray opened with extraordinary focus, self-discipline, and controlled aggression. It put Federer on the back foot straight away, and that is where he stayed.
Murray elected to receive first, and that turned out to be an astute choice, as Federer made a flat start. A double fault, missed first serves, and over-hit forehands allowed Murray an opening break. The Scot, in contrast, hit great serves straight away, and held to 15.
Federer’s second service game began with another long forehand, and he quickly went a break point down again, but found some better length to hold. He then won a break point of his own against Murray but blew it with a shocking drop shot into the net. The chance to draw level disappeared, along with his first threads of confidence.
Serving at 2-4, Federer made another bad error overhead. He held, but only after five deuces. Another thread of concentration began to fray.
Whenever Federer ventured to the net, Murray whipped the ball past him: the Swiss won only seven of his 13 approaches in the first set. When Federer dropped a ball short, Murray sprinted to retrieve it and made a winning return. When Federer managed a break point, Murray came up with an ace.
It was soul-destroying stuff for a man making so many unforced errors -10 by the sixth game. Murray continued to look more sharp and accurate than he had done all week and, eventually, Federer found himself serving to save the set.
He made another inauspicious start with a double fault and a netted forehand. After 45 minutes, Murray hit a scorching forehand to set up two match points, and then produced the shot of the set, a running angled forehand pass onto the side line: 6-3.
The story continued in the opening game of the second set. Federer won two chances to break the Murray serve, but sent a forehand flying long and just stood, hands on hips, in disbelief.
His unforced error count continued to rise -30 by the end of an all-too-short match -especially on the usually pinpoint accurate forehand down the line. The more Federer failed to contain the solid defence and sustained attack of Murray, the more he showed uncharacteristic signs of frustration, not least in a series of exchanges with the umpire.
Meanwhile, Murray’s average serve speed rose to almost 130mph. He played aggressive baseline rallies -many extending to 25 or more shots -until he saw an opening and fired off a winner. Even the Federer body language -normally inscrutable -gave the game away: all of which did Murray’s confidence no harm at all.
Murray moved to 5-2 and once again Federer was forced to serve for his survival. He drove one forehand at least a foot long, and conceded the match -somewhat appropriately -with a netted volley.
The win marks Murray’s sixth Masters title -his second in as many months -and moves him one ahead of Djokovic’s tally. The loss keeps Federer one Masters title short of Nadal’s record.
Murray was asked afterwards why he doesn’t smile more. He beamed: indeed a rare sight. But the answer was simple. “I’m just shy. I don’t handle all the cameras and the media very well.” The Chinese fans, though, love Murray regardless -even though he beat their favourite in Shanghai.
And it’s probably time that British fans did, too. He has now won more titles than any other British man in the open era: 16. And if he can sustain the kind of confidence and aggression he produced in winning the Toronto and Shanghai Masters, he will become the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win a Grand Slam.
As for Federer, he is meant to play in the Stockholm 250 this week. But it was a subdued man who commented: “Missing so many important shots over and over again obviously took a lot of my confidence away.”
Reminders of the Murray who lost the Australian Open in January: a role reversal indeed.