Wimbledon 2015: Near-perfect Federer sails past Murray to Djokovic showdown

Roger Federer sweeps past Andy Murray 7-5 7-5 6-4 to reach his 10th Wimbledon final, against Novak Djokovic

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis at Wimbledon

There are times when all the records and statistics, all the reputations and history, all the headlines and hype cannot do justice to a sporting occasion. And the second semi-final of this year’s Wimbledon, featuring Roger Federer and Andy Murray, was one of those times.

World No2 Federer, playing in a record 37th Grand Slam semi-final, was bidding for an 18th Grand Slam title and a record eighth Wimbledon title, was about to play his 10th Wimbledon final—extending his own record set here in 2012: He had yet to lose a Wimbledon semi.

The world No 3, and champion here in 2013, Murray was aiming for his ninth Grand Slam and third Wimbledon final. In reaching the semis, he extended his own record for the most Grand Slam semis appearances by a British man—and was bidding to become the first since Fred Perry to win multiple titles here.

Federer had reached 290 Grand Slam match-wins to reach this 24th meeting with Murray, and the Briton had totted up his 150th.

Murray led the tour, with Novak Djokovic, for match-wins this year, 46, and had won three titles. Federer followed close behind with 39, with four titles. And each arrived at Wimbledon with an ATP 500 title, Queen’s and Halle respectively.

Their head-to-head was just in Federer’s favour, 12-11, but this their first meeting on grass since the glorious Olympic summer of 2012, recalled just how tightly contested some of those previous matches had been. That year, Federer beat Murray to claim Wimbledon, and a month later, on the very same Centre Court, the Briton got his revenge to win gold.

Federer had talked of Murray’s impressive return to top-flight tennis after back surgery at the end of 2013, and there could be no denying that Murray was back to playing some of his best tennis since winning Wimbledon in 2013. As he said after reaching the semis here: “I feel like I’m playing better tennis than I was [at the Olympics].”

But by the same token, Federer’s return from a low of No8 early last year—after his own previous season of back problems—had been outstanding: 73 match wins and five titles from 11 finals, including a five-set thriller here last year. And this year? Since moving to grass, his serve had been broken only once in 117 service games until his single break by Gilles Simon in the quarter-finals.

Yes, the stats certainly stacked up for both men, but there was another dimension here that made this match particularly special—and that was the fans.

The demand to see Federer has been huge for years, and as he approaches his 34th birthday, the faithful thousands follow him while they still can. He has a fan-base like no other, one that cuts through generations and genders, national and sports boundaries.

It had taken the Murray time to build his own devoted following, but he had steadily won over British hearts and minds through his battle to win his first Major, from weeping tears as losing finalist in that summer of 2012 to winning gold a month later. Now the crowds came to SW19 to be part of his story, and Murray recognised their support, but also the reputation of his opponent.

“Roger’s obviously extremely popular everywhere he goes, so it might not be as partisan a crowd or atmosphere as some matches that I play here. But it will still be an excellent atmosphere.”

The fans were indeed treated to a feast of the highest quality, one that Murray may well have won had he played someone else. But on this day, the form that has shone from Federer’s tennis throughout the tournament rose to another level. Murray might has taken it as a compliment, except that the Swiss star’s tennis proved devastating in its brilliance.

Federer’s only ‘weak’ game was the first, when he defended what would be the only break point of the match. A couple of aces did the trick, the first in what would become a tally of 20, and that against, as Federer said himself afterwards, one of the best returners in tennis.

But both played well throughout the first set as it reached its climax. But rather than a tie-break, Federer unleashed first a backhand down the line then a forehand return-of-serve winner. Another cracking backhand at Murray’s feet, and he broke for the set, 7-5. Federer had made 23 winners to just three errors, and the second set would be little different.

It was not just Federer’s serve that was taking its toll but his return of serve: He pounced aggressively on both first and second serves, and Murray did well to hold off break point in the fourth game of the second set, and did even better in a scintillating 10th game that lasted almost a quarter of an hour. Five times Federer had break points, and Murray defended them through deuce after deuce. The Swiss worked an easy smash chance but sent it long, and Murray found his best serving to hold: It brought a standing ovation.

But a minute later, Federer had held to love, and two more rallies of intense pace and corner-hitting depth broke down the Murray serve for timely break, 7-5.

Still Murray was hitting twice the winners to errors, but he could not match the relentless accuracy and variety down both wings from the other side of the net: 41 winners; 10 errors; 19/19 first serve points.

There was simply no let-up in the third, with only the second Federer deuce in the match in the third game. Otherwise it was love holds and first-strike returns all the way, drawing one last fatal error to break for set and match, 6-4.

Many will remember the match as one of almost undiluted brilliance from Federer, though Murray may remember it differently. He was off the court and into press in minutes, praising his opponent—“yeah, it’s impressive”— before heading home as soon as possible.

Federer was the first to admit he was serving particularly well—though 56 winners for just 11 errors was not bad either:
“I served very well, a very high firstserve percentage plus going big. So definitely it was one of my best serving days of my career, for sure.”

Federer, then, remains undefeated in semi-finals at Wimbledon, but can he overturn the final result last year against one of his greatest rivals, defending champion Djokovic? In this form, yes he can, but it is remarkable standard to maintain. For now, though, he is delighted just to have a chance.

“It’s great to play Novak anywhere these days, because he’s a great player. He’s had unbelievable success throughout his career. Especially now the last few years, he’s been unbelievably dominant.

“I don’t really think about the match we played against each other last year. I just remember it was unbelievably thrilling. The crowd really got into it. I’m just happy personally for myself to be back in a finals. That it’s Novak, the world No1, obviously adds something extra.”

It will be their fourth final this year: Federer won in Dubai, Djokovic in Rome and Indian Wells. This one? It could be another five-set thriller.


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