Australian Open 2014: Sweet revenge over Murray for bold Federer
Australian Open 2014: Four-time champion Roger Federer beats Andy Murray 6-3 6-4 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 in three hours and 20 minutes
What a difference a year makes?
A little over 12 months ago, the tennis world waited patiently to see how the Australian Open draw would fall. With Rafael Nadal still absent after six months out with a knee injury, the top four seeds were led by Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and David Ferrer. The big question was….into whose half would Murray fall?
It was an important question because Murray was the newest Grand Slam champion in tennis. He had beaten Djokovic to win the US Open final, and a couple of months before that, at the 2012 Olympics, he had beaten Federer at Wimbledon to win the gold medal.
Murray was drawn with Federer.
When they met for the 20th time in the semis, Murray had spent almost two hours fewer on court, and it showed. The 31-year-old Swiss had faced tough competition against the likes of Benoit Paire, Nikolay Davydenko and Milos Raonic, and then outlasted an on-fire Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in five sets. In contrast, Murray’s only seed, Gilles Simon, could barely put one foot in front of the other after a marathon five-setter and two four-setters. Federer twice came from behind to take Murray to five sets but eventually could not live with the Briton.
So after three previous meetings in Grand Slams, three times in finals, and three times with Federer the victor, Murray had taken another step forward in what remains his biggest rivalry: more face-offs than against any other player and an 11-9 advantage.
But the year that has passed since that significant meeting has brought many unforeseen developments.
The Grand Slam winning Murray went on to win the Miami Masters, Queen’s and then Wimbledon, and rose to No2 in the rankings, but his successes masked underlying problems—a troubling back that forced retirement in Rome and absence from the French Open. He finally had surgery after the US Open, returning for the Australian swing.
Federer, too, struggled with back problems that began in Indian Wells and only resolved in the autumn, by which time he had fallen in the second round of Wimbledon, pulled out of Montreal and taken only one title, in Halle. Trials with a new racket were abandoned, training blocks lost and his ranking slipped to No7 for the first time in 11 years.
Although the winter gave Federer time for training, the new racket, and an “inspiring” addition to his team in Stefan Edberg, by the time this year’s Australian draw was made, Federer was still ranked No6 and thus outside the top four. So the big question was…in whose half—indeed in whose quarter—would Federer fall?
And as luck would have it, he fell into Murray’s. What’s more, to claim the title, each man would most likely have to beat the other, plus Nadal and Djokovic.
Just as last year, some good fortune helped ease Murray back into competition as his section’s two highest seeds, John Isner and Philipp Kohlschreiber, went AWOL: Murray played “lucky loser” Stephane Robert in the fourth round.
Meanwhile, Federer had a replay of last year’s five-set quarter-final against Tsonga, though this time Federer advanced in three sets. Could the Swiss man reproduce the same form to reach his 11th consecutive Australian semi-final, or would Murray’s strength, stamina and self-belief prevail?
The only colour in this all-blue bowl of an arena, with both men favouring the same tones, came from the scarlet of Federer’s bandana and shoes, but their shot-making quickly lit up the stage. Murray showcased the shot he believes has benefitted most from his back surgery, the backhand down the line, to make an opening winner, but Federer came back with a couple of volley winners to hold.
And the Federer volley, such a big component in his full-blooded game so far this tournament, was on full show against the Murray serve, and he broke in the fourth game. Already unusually vocal, a loud “C’mon” accompanied his hold of serve at 5-2, and he sealed the set, 6-3 already with 17 points won at the net.
The second set brought the best rally of the match thus far, a 23-shot all-court display off both wings, a smash, a lob and great defence. Murray won it, and began both to find his range—and inch-perfect backhand lob included—and to read the fresh attacking patterns of Federer.
But what seemed to bamboozle Murray was the improved Swiss backhand, especially on return of serve, and it earned Federer a vital early break in the fifth game.
The Swiss held on to his lead, though not without some nervy serving under the increasing Murray pressure, to serve out 6-4. However, the gap between them was closing by the game, especially as the Murray serve improved and he, too, took to the net more often.
Federer would rue three lost break chances in the first game of the third set, and another in the third. Instead, they edged to 4-4 and what would become a pivotal moment. Federer chased down a short ball to lift a perfect lob, only to see it replayed—and questioned by Murray—to check it had not been a double bounce. It hadn’t, but when Federer broke, Murray was clearly angry. That galvanised him into breaking back as Federer, tense with nerves, attempted to serve for the match. It would go to a tie-break.
Again, nerves seemed to get the better of Federer while the adrenalin continued to invigorate Murray. Federer failed to convert two match points, and never once came to the net as Murray snatched the set, 8-6.
Still apparently unnerved, Federer made two wild errors on serve in the first game but held. Back to his attacking tactics, the match hit another crucial juncture. An exhausting, 19-minute game of 10 deuces, one net repair, and six missed break chances for Federer, took the match to 1-1 after almost half an hour—but who would draw the most encouragement from it?
Neither initially could take advantage, but by the time they reached the eighth game, Murray looked marginally less energetic and Federer, still full of attack, did not pass up another break chance. And despite going 0-30 down on serve, he did not pass up the chance to serve out the match, either—with an ace. The switch back to his forward-moving game—more points won at net in this set than any of the others—stole the match and the show, 6-3.
Another still bigger challenge will face Federer on Friday, against the man who holds a 22-10 advantage over him, world No1 Nadal. Federer has lost all four of their meetings last year and both their previous matches in Melbourne—the 2009 final and the 2012 semi.
The odds say Nadal will prevail, but the resurgent form of the 2014 Federer says it will be another close one.