It’s the semifinal match we all wanted to see when the draw came out an now we got it. It’s Roger Federer against Andy Murray for the right to play top dog Novak Djokovic Sunday in the Australian Open finals.
It’s also the 20th time they meet in a rivalry dating back to 2005 Bangkok. Murray leads the Swiss 10-9 overall but Federer won three of five last year and most importantly, has dominated the Scot 3-0 in Grand Slam matches losing just one of 10 sets played including two whitewashes in Australia.
Tonight, of course, Murray will need three sets if he wants to advance to third Australian final. And this is their first match at a Major since Murray’s won a Grand Slam, so with the monkey off his back Murray should play freer, with a looser attitude.. But will he? Is the pressure really off?
Looking at the results this week, Murray’s benefited from a dream draw, one of the easiest you’ll ever find any player have en route to a Grand Slam semifinal. It’s no wonder he hasn’t dropped a set. Honestly, who among the other “Big Four” would have given the tomato cans he was up against all week.
The best player by ranking he faced was a fourth round encounter with Gilles Simon who was physically spent from a marathon win over Gael Monfils. His next best was another Frenchman, Jeremy Chardy, in the quarterfinal. In his first career Slam quarter, the unseeded Chardy had also played a lot of tennis including three four-setters and a five set win over Juan Martin Del Potro.
In the early rounds Murray enjoyed the company of Robin Haase, someone named Joao Sousa and qualifier Ricardas Berankis. Names that don’t exactly strike fear. And Murray, as he should, cruised.
So Andy may never in his life get such an easy path at a Slam or any other tournament.
“Who knows,” Murray said about his lack of competition this week. “I played a lot of tennis in December. I had some good matches in Brisbane. So I can’t be disappointed about being in the semis of a slam without dropping a set. That would be silly.”
To extent Murray is right. A win is a win.
On the other side of the net is the battle-tested Federer. Roger may have just navigated through one of his toughest roads to a semifinals. Beating Nikolay Davydenko, Bernard Tomic, Milos Raonic all in straights and then fending off JW Tsonga in five is no easy feat. And Roger did it with his usual style.
Even in his first tournament, Fed’s been playing exceptionally well. He may not have the range or power off the ground he once had, but the smarts don’t go away. Tsonga at times was out-muscling Roger but when it came down to it, Federer’s mental game prevailed.
Against Murray, Federer won’t have to worry about getting blown off the court. For some reason Murray just doesn’t play that way, and who can really match Tsonga for sheer aggression? So Roger should always be in the match and that’s to his benefit.
“I always enjoyed the matchups with him because it gets to be very tactical,” Federer said. “Wasn’t a straightforward match. e would make you doubt and play very different to the rest of the guys. I kind of always enjoyed that, you know, when it’s just not every point’s the same. We used to mix it up against each other. Now it’s changed a bit because he’s playing more offensive. The rallies aren’t as long and grueling as they used to be. We both can do that.”
And under Lendl’s more offensive mindset, Federer’s held the 3-2 edge with Murray beating him comfortably for the gold at the Olympics and in the fall at Shanghai. Federer’s two most recent wins – ATP London and Wimbledon – both came indoors (Wimbledon roof was closed mid-match) an he got him last February in Dubai on an outdoor hardcourt.
As usual when these to play, it comes down to Roger. If he serves well, puts a cap on errors he should dictate and win. If Federer’s in form and Murray’s playing defense again it’s going to go the Swiss’s way. Murray, though, has that ability to take it to another gear. I just don’t know if we’ll see it.
That said, I do think Murray’s the overall better player here. If these two played 10 times next week on a neutral court I think Murray wins six of them. And he could/should win this in straight sets – Murray is 25 in his prime, Federer 31 well past it. But is Andy playing the better tennis this very minute? As we saw with Maria Sharapova yesterday, early round results can be deceiving when you face stiffer competition.
Federer’s success over Murray in Slams also gives me some pause. So after picking Murray to beat Federer at this stage at the start of event I’ll make the cardinal sin and go in reverse. I just think Federer’s playing better, more confident tennis right now and I’m just not impressed with any of Murray’s wins. Yes, Murray’s a Grand Slam champion now but Federer’s a 4-time Australian Open winner.
The Pick: Federer in five
As for yesterday, no real surprise with Novak who absolutely ripped David Ferrer. It was scary good tennis from the Serb who now gets two full days of rest of recoup any lingering distress he had from his earlier win over Stan Wawrinka. Based on what I saw from Novak I just don’t see who either Murray or Federer could beat him come Sunday.
Match time is 3:30am for you nightowls on the east coast. ESPN will have the call.
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