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Masterful Federer dominates Murray

11/23/2010

LONDON -- Roger Federer looked a little tense, perhaps boorish, in his prematch interview at the World Tour Finals on Tuesday afternoon. Meanwhile, his opponent, Andy Murray, was loose as a goose.

Murray revealed his tactics, saying he wanted to be aggressive when given the chance, while the Swiss kept pretty quiet, only suggesting he needed to perform well to reverse an ugly two-match losing streak against the versatile Scot.

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Their Group B encounter at London's O2 Arena, quickly becoming a favorite venue for the players thanks to the 17,000 or so routinely in attendance, was the most hotly anticipated round-robin clash at the year-end championships.

Fans, who gave Federer a slightly bigger cheer as he and Murray walked on the court, hoped for the sort of entertainment produced Monday evening by Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick, who toiled for more than 2.5 hours.

It didn't happen. Not even close.

Federer indeed played solidly, improving to 2-0, and is almost assured of a spot in the semifinals. Murray's crushing 6-4, 6-2 loss, though, raised more questions, especially by the British media, about his big-match temperament.

"That it went as well as it did today, I'm quite surprised," Federer told the crowd. "I'm almost shocked. I don't think Andy played his best, that's for sure."

Federer won the toss and, unusual for him, elected to receive. The move paid dividends. Murray was forced to save a break point in a six-minute opening game before dropping serve at love to trail 2-1. At one stage, Federer won nine straight points.

The lone glimmer of hope for Murray resulted as Federer tried to serve out the first. Federer, wary of Murray's outstanding passing capabilities, hesitated approaching the net. Murray ripped a fine cross-court, forehand pass for 0-30. Federer suddenly became edgy, next challenging an out call on his serve that was miles long. However, he won the next four points.

Federer's most troubling moment of the day came when he caught his clothing in the net post seconds after the handshake.

When Murray blitzed Federer in the final of the Shanghai Masters this fall, the latter won a measly five points on second serve. In Toronto in the summer, he won half. In the opening set Tuesday, Federer went 10-for-12. And this was a slow hard court.

"That's a bit strange," Federer said of his dominance on serve. "Andy's a good returner, one of the best we have."

Murray's serve, which is frustratingly inconsistent, is still a source of angst. He converted only 32 percent in the first set and only slightly better in the second.

"I did the two most important things in tennis very poorly today, which is serve and return," Murray said in his news conference. "And against someone as good as Roger, you can't do them badly."

The world No. 5 made uncharacteristic backhand errors, and his forehand continues to lack penetration. When short balls are steered to the forehand, Murray rarely puts the ball away.

Murray needs to recover by Thursday, when he'll battle David Ferrer. The Spaniard leads their head-to-heads 3-1, so it won't be easy.