Australian Open 2013: Murray beats Federer to set up Djokovic final
Australian Open 2013: Andy Murray beats Roger Federer 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 6-7 (2-7) 6-2 to set up a final against Novak Djokovic
Two weeks ago, it was the first and the biggest question when the men’s draw for the 2013 Australian Open was made.
Novak Djokovic would top one half and Roger Federer the other but, with no Rafael Nadal to balance the scales, where would the third of the dominant quartet fall? Andy Murray was drawn with Federer.
Ever since, the gap between them had tapered down to a near-certain face-off — near-certain, because both faced serious obstacles.
Federer raced past Benoit Paire, knocked out former top-three Nikolay Davydenko, found the dangerous youngsters Bernard Tomic and Milos Raonic no problem, but then ran into the buffers of No7 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga—one of just three men to have beaten him in the quarters of a Grand Slam before. Hugely entertaining, highly dramatic, Federer survived this top-quality encounter—but with his serve broken and sets lost for the first time in the tournament.
Murray’s path also had major tripwires, not least a former Grand Slam champion, Juan Martin del Potro. But he and Marin Cilic, at No12 an alternative quarter-final opponent, both fell short of their appointed place. Murray reached the semis having faced just one seed, No14 Gilles Simon—and he could barely put one foot in front of the other after a marathon five-setter and two four-setters. Things had opened up nicely, giving him almost two hours fewer on court than Federer.
So for the 20th meeting in their long and fascinating rivalry, there was a palpable sense that the balance was about to shift.
Three times they had met in Grand Slams, three times in finals, and three times Federer had won—not least in this same Rod Laver arena in 2010. But as Murray said after his most recent defeat, at last year’s Wimbledon, “I’m getting closer.”
Sure enough, he took revenge on the same patch of London grass a month later to claim gold at the Olympics, and went on to win his first Grand Slam.
So compared with their first final at Melbourne Park, a few things had changed. Not only was Murray more mature, more confident and more experienced but he had also become physically more intimidating: a muscular tour-de-force who came within a hair’s breadth of beating defending champion Djokovic in last year’s semi and went on to outlast the same man in a five-hour final in New York.
The conditions were cool and windy, and it was perhaps those conditions that prompted Murray’s decision to choose ends rather than serve when he won the toss. He hoped for a quick break and a quick psychological edge.
He didn’t manage it in the first game, though a bruising 29-stroke rally gave him break point, but he did so in the third, bullying Federer in a couple of long backhand exchanges. Already the greater muscle in the Murray shot-making was making better inroads in the slower conditions.
Federer mixed things up in the next to get the chance of a quick break back but Murray snuffed it out with some weighty serving and penetrating drives to the Federer backhand.
The Swiss struggled to generate the same kind of weight on his own serve and that, in turn, inhibited his ability to attack the net. The effort to produce extra pace on his vital first serve pulled his success rate below 60 percent while Murray’s rose into the 70s. He gave Federer no more break opportunities and took the set, 6-4, with 16 winners to Federer’s lowly six.
And while Federer opened serve in the second set, he was again in danger of going behind as he fended off two deuces. In contrast, Murray fired through his serve, building his tally to seven aces against Federer’s zero. The Swiss faced deuce in the third game, too, as Murray took control with Federer-like rallies—sliced approaches followed by touch volley put-aways.
By 4-4, Murray had made twice as many winners, 27 of them, repeatedly passed Federer at the net, and looked in control, but somehow Federer stayed in the match and they reached a tie-break. Should Federer lose it, the balance of power suggested there would be no way back.
All credit to the former champion, then, that he went on the offensive, picking off a swing volley winner for a 4-1 lead. Murray pulled back to 4-4 in a purple patch of play—one rally drawing smiles from both men. The crucial moment came from a Federer backhand, flashing past a floundering Murray, and the Swiss seized the set with a big forehand.
Even so, the momentum lay with the Scot. He had made more winners and fewer errors in the second set, and he served first in the third. It took 20 minutes, as the match entered its third hour, for Murray to regain the upper hand on the scoreboard, too, playing superb defence that transitioned easily into attack at the right moments.
Commentator Frew McMillan described the intricate and thrilling exchanges perfectly: two players moving between classical and abstract painting. Federer identified it afterwards as “a game of chess”, and now Murray had ‘check’. He broke for a 4-2 lead as Federer—far more vocal than usual throughout the match—played a poor, distracted game and it cost him the set, 6-3.
The stats favoured Murray even more strongly: Federer had won just 19 points in the set to Murray’s 30, and the Scot had made a strong statement with his closing service game, too, firing ace, winner and ace—a literal and metaphorical flexing of the muscles. Could Federer resist the surge?
It looked not, as Murray passed Federer at the net to earn a quick break point, but he slipped over and lost enough focus for Federer to hold. Buoyed up by a crowd desperate for a longer match, Federer responded with some inspired serve and volley attack. It drew Murray’s first weak service game and the break—but it was short-lived. From 1-4, Murray broke, then fought off another break point through a long, dramatic eighth game, to level at 4-4.
Both were clearly pumped with adrenalin, pulling off spectacular winners by turn, running each other ragged. A couple of loose points could prove decisive and they came from Federer: Murray broke to love and stepped up to serve for the match.
He looked unprepared for the full-on response he got from Federer—“when his back’s against the wall, he came out with some unbelievable shots”. Successive net attacks followed by a searing backhand winner down the line earned break point, and Murray thumped a forehand wide. It was another tie-break.
Murray led the match, 150 points to 130, but Federer claimed seven of the next nine to level the match. It was the only set of the five in which the Swiss posted more points and more winners—by a margin of just two.
They were now 3hrs 40 mins into this intensely physical, emotionally demanding contest, and now began to tell on Federer. He played perhaps his weakest service game of the tournament—serves overhit, backhands shanked, drop shots netted, and he was broken straight away. Murray, still full of energy, quickly pressed home his physical advantage over a visibly slowing Federer, to lead 3-0.
A 21st ace took Murray to 5-2 and a final affirmative break sealed the match, 6-2, for one more significant milestone in the career of Murray.
The scoreline was a testament to the competitive fire that still burns so strongly in Federer, but it belied a different undercurrent. Murray was the dominant player for most of the match, imposing his speed, agility and muscularity on almost every point. He has developed an impressive range of weaponry, too—especially in offence—and an almost tangible self-belief.
Federer saw it the same way: “He beat me fair and square tonight—no regrets from me.”
Olympic gold and the US Open could be just the beginning. Murray now finds himself in this third Australian final where, just as in New York, he will face Djokovic. And he has every chance of winning.