Federer rides purple patch to Shanghai final against Murray
Roger Federer, when prompted to comment on seeking revenge against Novak Djokovic for his US Open loss, asserted that he wasn’t “a revenge kind of guy,” but it wasn’t convincing.
Heading into a 17th meeting, theirs has become one of the hottest rivalries on the tour, with the balance of power between the world numbers two and three finely poised. They have shared a match apiece in the last two months, both in semi-finals: the former at that US Open, the other in the Toronto Masters.
Neither Federer nor Djokovic had lost a set in Shanghai and both had shone in their quarter-finals. And the two men play some of the most expansive, creative tennis around, appear to be at peak fitness, and are confident. It is no surprise, then, that the anticipation for this match was high both from fans and commentators.
Djokovic opened serve and the fireworks began. This game, and the following three, were all tightly fought, with break opportunities and long, intense rallies of superb quality from both sides. The fourth game summed up the nature of the contest.
Over the course of its 11-and-a-half minutes, Federer was forced to save three break points, and did so with some timely first serves and a fine volley. He held, and the set moved to 2-2 -after a full half an hour of play.
The set advanced to its conclusion in a similar fashion, with closely fought points in closely fought games. There was nothing to choose between them.
Not until the first decisive game -with Federer serving to stay in the set at 4-5 -did the momentum begin to swing just a little. He played a couple of nervy shots but managed to serve out his game from deuce. Federer had an edginess that he would never have shown a couple of years back, chastising himself under his breath and roaring with anger at missed opportunities. In contrast, Djokovic was the calmest man in Shanghai.
But Federer then turned the pressure onto Djokovic in a seven-minute game that again went to deuce. Federer at last broke the Djokovic serve, and held his nerve to take the set 7-5.
That seemed to fuel the Federer confidence. He was clearly wary of the lapse of concentration that lost him the second and fourth sets in the US Open when he was also in the ascendancy. He switched into all-out attack on Djokovic’s opening game and drew an immediate break of serve. All the Serb could do was smile through a purple patch from a purple-clad Federer.
Serving at 1-3, Djokovic went another break down, but this time broke back immediately. Would this signal the same comeback he had made from a set down in their last two matches, or would Federer maintain his concentration?
For a while, it was nip and tuck, and neither enjoyed a clean service game: all were fought through lengthy rallies. But with one break of serve still in his pocket, Federer eventually had the chance to serve for the match and, appropriately enough, it was finally with a love game.
Federer extends his record tally of Masters match wins to 221 and, more significantly, has the chance to equal the Nadal record of 18 Masters titles when he plays Andy Murray in the final.
The opening semi-final in Shanghai had the predictable outcome but perhaps not the predictable performance from Murray. The Scot, following his easy defeat of world No12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, should have sailed at speed through the Argentine Juan Monaco, but it took him a wayward hour and a half to book his final place, just a quarter of an hour less than the intensely fought Federer-Djokovic match.
For Murray, it looked something like complacency: Monaco is ranked just 41, had played a three-hour match the day before, and had never been in a Masters semi-final before.
Murray broke early to go up 5-2 but, serving out the set, he played a weak game that ended with a double fault to even the score. Monaco had the game in his hands on his own serve, with Murray playing desperate defence, but Monaco over-hit a smash and Murray regrouped to come back and break for the set, 6-4.
The stats for the first set showed that Murray was indeed playing defensively. The traditional clay-courter Monaco took only 31 per cent of his shots from behind the baseline compared with Murray’s 86 per cent. Fortunately for Murray, Monaco lacks the variety of game and strength of shot that Murray enjoys.
Monaco dropped into a routine baseline tactic that allowed Murray the space to find his rhythm and concentration. Murray quickly went up 3-0 before Monaco managed to hold serve to win both his first and last game of the set.
So the Murray scoreline was a convincing one even if his performance was rather below par. One thing’s for sure. He will have to play with a lot more aggression and purpose in the final, because his passive approach against Monaco -as he learned to his cost against Stanislas Wawrinka in the US Open -won’t produce the title. But he knows how it’s done, and has the skill to do it, as he proved against Federer in the Toronto final.
Murray leads Federer 7-5 in their head-to-head and will be well rested ahead of this encounter. But while Federer may disdain using the word ‘revenge’ in his tennis, he will be very keen indeed to turn the tables on Murray for that Toronto loss. His tennis and his mood are good enough to do just that.