In a match that resembled the classic fairground game Whack the Mole, Andy Murray was frequently forced to wield a mallet to deal with Roger Federer’s occasional forays above the surface of an Australian Open semi that Murray won 6-4 6-7 6-3 6-7 6-2.
If ever it was possible to canter to a five-set victory, Murray proved it here. The Scot, wearing flashes of gold on his Adidas outfit in tribute to Federer’s 2008 Olympic doubles victory, dominated the routine play on Rod Laver Arena, playing second fiddle only in the tiebreaks that the Swiss has made his own in major events.
It was the Scot who got off to the better start, dominating Federer from the baseline and lacing groundshots into the corners. The Swiss turned this way and that, pirouetting his way like a pink-trimmed ballerina to an exacerbation of his troublesome back injury. Murray broke for 3-1 and hung on to take the first set in a relative canter.
The second set ramped up the action, with beefy tennis from the back court. Although the British number one laid down a solid serving foundation, with close to a 70% first-delivery success rate, he was unable to force a break and the set drifted uncomfortably for the world number three into a tiebreak.Read more (518 words)
Although Federer’s triumphs on the game’s biggest stages have been increasingly rare in recent years, the Swiss has still managed to husband his energies to play flowing, aggressive tennis when it most matters.
An enviable tiebreak record attests to that, with Federer winning five of the six the two players have contested. Some passive tennis from the Scot, coupled with a mistimed smash at 5-5 that recalled a similar shot by Roddick at a crucial point of the 2009 Wimbledon final, duly cooked the Scottish goose.
The third set turned on a magical twenty minutes’ action from the Scot that began with Federer serving at 2-3. Murray drilled backhands and forehands as if in practice through the Swiss player’s defences, hitting high to the Federer backhand and taking his cue from Nadal’s successful tactics against the 17-time grand-slam champion.
The Scot broke for 4-2 and held on to cap a 6-3 set with a giant ace down the T that soared high into the backstop.
But up popped the mole again in set four, as Federer, playing in his tenth successive semi-final in Melbourne, cut loose with some wide serving and opportunist groundshots to steal a 4-1 lead. Murray’s first-serve percentage had dropped to 38%, but the Scot stilled his mind and struck back with a vengeance to level at 4-4 after an epic service game that featured a stunning running lob from the British number one deftly caught by well-groomed slow bowler Shane Warne.
During the fourth set, Federer applied some spin of his own, with a comment towards the Scot at the net that, from Murray’s reaction, was unlikely to have been uber-polite. The Swiss followed that up in the breaker with a facial gesture that will surely have reduced by one Murray’s Christmas card obligations.
Although some searing backcourt play from the Scot saw him serve for the match at 6-5, the prospect of a nice juicy tiebreak seemed to galvanise the world number two and a ferocious smash and scorching down-the-line backhand duly brought it about.
Federer looks at tiebreaks the way that moles stare at earthworms and, like a man reinvigorated and renewed after a week at a St Moritz spa and wellness centre, the Swiss upped his game to improbable levels just as Murray wheeled out his ladies’ third-team second serve.
Unfortunately for Federer, there’s no tiebreak in the fifth set, a fact that must have slowly dawned on the Swiss early in the decider, when a series of shanks and pulls gave Murray the initiative at 3-0. With the Scot’s serving picking up once again – he fired his 20th ace at 4-2 – Murray held firm to break again at 5-2 and bellow loudly into the cool Melbourne night air.
When the two players met at net, Federer wore a look of contrition that Murray treated with the contempt it deserved. The Scot will need to be equally disdainful on Sunday, in the face of the laser hitting of his friend Novak Djokovic, when he bids to become the first man in history to win his first two slams in back-to-back events.