Roger Federer and Andy Murray weren’t the two players I picked to reach the final, but there appearance in today’s Rogers Cup Toronto championship match really isn’t a major surprise.
Yesterday, Murray played one the best matches I’ve ever seen from him by crushing World No. 1 Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-4. Murray, the defending Canadian champ, shed his defensive posture and went on the attack right from start against Spaniard, lashing forehand winners and ripping his crosscourt backhands, never really allowing Rafa any space to breathe.
Nadal did have some chances. Mid-way through the first on a break point Nadal didn’t challenge a Murray second serve which review confirmed would have been a double fault. And in the second set with Murray ahead by a break Nadal managed to rebreak to get back even and finally grab the momentum.
But Murray was nonplussed and broke Nadal again to clinch the match.
“I enjoy playing that way,” Murray said of his aggressive approach. “You know, when I have played against Rafa and when I have needed to against, you know, the best players, I’ve always tried to play more aggressively. You know, I just know I just want to — I want to enjoy, you know, playing my game, sort of express myself on the court how, you know, how I want. You know, obviously I’m without a coach just now, and so it’s a little bit — you know, it’s a little bit different. I’ve been enjoying myself out there and obviously playing well.
“I had to play a slightly different game style, but I played very well today, too,” he said. “I had won of my best matches of the year. I played very well against Rafa in Australia, as well. You know, I just — I like playing him on hardcourts.”
In the evening, I thought Federer would come out ultra-aggressively like he played Friday night, but he really didn’t in a tough 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 victory over Novak Djokovic.
Federer seemed to revert back to his usual ways perhaps eschewing the attacking, run-to-the-net philosophy of new trial coach Paul Annacone. And for the Swiss it worked in the end, but it wasn’t easy.
Although early on this one appeared to be a mismatch. Behind a deluge of errors, Novak dropped the first in a blink and it looked like a quick, early night for both guys when Fed gained the early 2-0 lead in the second. But Novak picked his game up, he cut down on the miscues and he went work by finding the Federer backhand and dictating rallies from baseline.
Djokovic won six of the last seven games in second set, and the momentum was his. Or so it seemed.
Federer raced out to 4-1 advantage in the third set before Novak stormed back (Federer again unable to maintain a lead!). And at 5-5 Djokovic held multiple break chances but he just couldn’t covert. Federer came up big on each one. The dejected Serb smashed his racquet at missed opportunity, then was broken in the very next game after a flurry of errors.
“I was up very quickly, too quickly almost,” said Federer who returned to the No. 2 ranking with the win. “Against a guy like Novak I knew all it would take would be one service break and his whole attitude and demeanor will change. He started to serve better, return better and not miss so much and everything just tightened up. He’s known for being a bit streaky and we saw that tonight. I could have won the match earlier but I’m very happy to have come through anyhow.”
Said Djokovic, “I didn’t find my rhythm. After only half an hour it was already set and break up. But I managed to come back, and I started feeling the ball better. But overall it wasn’t the best performance by my side. I wasn’t serving well when I needed to, and I made a lot of unforced errors on my backhand side.”
After such a horrendous start credit to Novak for his strong recovery. But at the end of the match he just let his emotions and the moment get the better of him. For Federer, after his tight, almost lucky Friday night win over he pulled out another close one. He’s winning but living dangerously.
As for today’s final…
Roger Federer v. Andy Murray
There’s a lot riding on today’s final. Federer hasn’t won a title since Australia and has just one ATP-level title in the last 12 months – that being 2009 Cincinnati. Murray led the tour in titles a year ago with six but this year he’s been stuck at zero. But after a post-Australian “hangover” things are turning around for the Scot.
Of the two, Murray has been the better player on whole this week. He thumped David Nalbandian Friday and yesterday was looked dominant against Nadal. The key will be how Murray plays – and it is a big question mark. Will he go on the offensive like we’ve seen him the last two rounds or play passively which seems to be his MO against Federer – he leads Roger 6-5 but has last three straight.
I say he’ll try a mixture. Former coach Brad Gilbert talks openly of Murray’s stubbornness and I think today Andy will want to show the world that he can still damage Federer by playing a more passive, defensive style game. But I think he’ll want to be a little more offensive-minded than he’s been against Fed in the past.
For Federer, he needs to serve well and try to dominate from the baseline, especially if Murray’s in defensive mode. Federer came to the net a lot against Berdych, not so much against Novak last night and today I’ll expect him again to be careful and selective in his approaches with a great mover and passer like Murray on the other side of the net.
“Well, I mean, there was a time when — not to take anything away from Andy, but there was a time when I think I was coming back from mono,” Federer said of his rivalry with Murray (there’s that mono again). “I think we played in the first round of Dubai. I mean, I played okay under the circumstances, but first round to play Murray wasn’t a nice draw to get. Then I played him many times in a row when he had the momentum, really. I think he got me three or four times in a row. That’s his credit that he was able to do that, you know. It shows what a great player he is. But then sometimes you get unlucky how rivalries turn out to be, and then sometimes you get stuck behind in the head-to-heads, you know, because you maybe didn’t play him on your favorite surface or on the perfect day for you but on the perfect day for the other guy. Yeah, I mean, he’s been very good at a very young age. I knew that the very first time I played him in Bangkok in the final that he was one who was going to fight for world No. 1 and for Grand Slam titles. That’s exactly what he’s been doing.”
Said Murray, “I’ve beaten him six times and lost five on the tour, so, you know, I feel confident if I play well that I can win against him. You know, just — I’m just gonna have to play good tennis like I did today and take my chances, play aggressive and not let him dictate the points. But he’s obviously a very tough guy to play against, because, you know, he’s got one of the best records ever in the game, but, you know, I think if I play like I did today I’ll give myself a chance of winning.”
If this were a Grand Slam final – Murray’s yet to win a set in one (nor has the Scot won a set against Roger in three finals) – I’d pick Federer. But I like the attitude Murray’s shown this week and maybe this is a sign of things to come. Federer’s still making a lot of errors (was is 2-1 errors to winners last night?) and while I like Annacone’s presence, I think Murray’s hungrier and more ready of the two for this one. Can Murray beat Rafa and Roger within 24 hours? I think so.
My pick: Murray in two
The good news is we have great final today and the match will be televised at 3pm. The bad news – really, really bad news for my fellow American readers – is that the match will be shown on tape delay!! The final starts at 1:30pm in Toronto, but because of Little League or contracts or something else, ESPN2 will not be on live today but on tape! I believe that’s also the case for the Maria Sharapova-Kim Clijsters Cincinnati final which airs after the men’s. Blah.
SUNDAY TORONTO SCHEDULE
CENTRE COURT start 1:30 pm
 A Murray (GBR) vs  R Federer (SUI)
J Benneteau (FRA) / M Llodra (FRA) vs  B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA)
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