Perhaps it was the rigours of beating Berdych and Djokovic back to back. Perhaps Federer was just too fluid. Whatever it was, Andy Murray looked a little flat as he went down 7-5 6-4 in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Championships today.
Where Murray was safe, Federer went for broke. Where the Scot was impatient, Federer was all controlled aggression. Instead of a swift transition to the forecourt, Murray fought a rearguard action in the backcourt.
It all added up to a litany of missed opportunities, squandered break points and desperate defending from Murray, who began aggressively but increasingly found himself forced too deep to penetrate Federer's imperious ground game.
The British number one opened the match confidently enough, perched on the white paint of the baseline like a baseball pitcher whipping slingshots into the outfield. But, in truth, it simply wasn't happening for Murray today. And, when it doesn't flow, you have to find a way to make it shift. Read more (350 words)
The world number four had done that by handcuffing Federer into his backhand corner, and he engineered two break points at 2-3 on the Swiss star's serve. But the four-time Dubai champion snuffed out the flame just as soon as it began to flicker, with some stretching groundshots and scud-like serving.
At 5-5, Federer got lucky. After a Murray double fault and another of many wayward Scottish backhands, Federer miscued a short return that the Scot could only prod into the tramlines, to go down 0-40.
Murray pulled it back to deuce but Federer's pressure was relentless. Another short return at break point forced the 24-year-old to chip and charge. Buckling under the weight of a colossal Swiss forehand, the Scot lunged for a backhand volley that landed long by a bee's eyebrow, and Federer mopped up the set with a slick service game.
At 1-1 in the second set, yet more backhands found the net from the racket of the British number one, and Federer had his break. With the Swiss not having lost his serve since the semi-finals of Rotterdam, the writing loomed large on the wall.
But Murray had other ideas and threw in an inspired game to break for 3-3 that featured the point of the match. At 30-30, the Scot hit an improbable return, scrambled to hoik a monster lob from a drop shot and rounded off with an adept stop volley. One more towering lob later and the game scores were locked.
It was not to be, though. While Murray gamely traded blow for blow with the 16-time slam champ, he threw in a scrawny service game at 4-4 and, when Federer followed up with a serving masterclass, it was game over.
Murray will reflect on a positive week in the Emirates, but will need to look more closely at his game plan for countering Federer, especially on a fast court crying out for the Scot's swift transition game.
Perhaps, too, with more direct involvement from coach Lendl, a strategy might have been devised that could have pulled a diamond from the desert dust.