Sunday, January 31, 2010
Fed lets racket do the talking vs. Murray
By Ravi Ubha ESPN.com
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Roger Federer probably didn't need psychological warfare the way he played Sunday to win a record-extending 16th major and inflict more woe on Andy Murray.
Fresh off his thumping of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Australian Open semifinals, Federer piled pressure on Murray's heavily burdened shoulders in the final.
Murray, to the surprise of many, still hasn't won a Grand Slam, and Great Britain hasn't produced a men's champion for "150,000 years," the Swiss pointed out Friday.
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To boot, Federer also bad-mouthed the Scot's largely defensive style in his Friday evening news conference, employing the I-lost-rather-than-he-won tactic to explain an inferior record in their head-to-heads.
Well, the drought continues, and Federer was spot-on in his assessment of Murray's game, evidenced by a convincing 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (11) win in Melbourne. Now Federer the dad is a Grand Slam winner after pulling two majors ahead of Pete Sampras on the all-time men's list.
"For him to come out and play as well as he did here just goes to show he has stuff to prove to himself, not to anybody else," said Pat Cash, the 1987 Wimbledon champion. "I'm flabbergasted to understand how he remains so motivated. I certainly couldn't."
Murray couldn't, either. Rod Laver Arena's roof was partially closed thanks to earlier rain, and how the Scot must have hoped for a downpour to give him respite in the first two sets. Murray, hampered by a slightly stiff back in Melbourne, also clutched at his knee and hip, although he said fitness had nothing to do with the outcome.
On Sunday morning in England and Scotland, Murray fans who got up early to watch on television were disappointed. A few more British journalists, if you can believe it, made the journey to Australia this weekend in expectation of an upset. The celebrations will have to wait.
"I don't feel great," Murray, teary-eyed during the trophy presentation, told reporters. "I obviously worked really hard to get to this stage. I wanted to win the tournament."
Although Federer's fluid game flowed after a nervy start, Murray showed little of the form he exhibited against Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals, when he thumped balls from the baseline, crunched big serves and served and volleyed.
Celebrations for Andy Murray's first Grand Slam title will have to wait after a convincing loss to Roger Federer.
Murray, 22, mostly reverted to his usual approach in the final, being passive on the baseline and content to soak up pressure. Interestingly, he felt his approach was only "wrong for a few parts."
By the time he woke up, the match was over. Once Federer wins the first set at a major, he's 172-5. Up two sets, forget it; he's 156-0.
Murray's backers have maintained it's only a matter of time until his serve clicks. They might have to admit defeat now, as Murray served just better than 55 percent for the match.
Federer thus shot down another of his younger rivals after crushing Tsonga. Sure, Tsonga was tired, but he had defeated Federer in their previous encounter.
"I feel like obviously I'm being pushed a great deal by the new generation coming up," Federer told reporters. "They've made me a better player, because I think this has been one of my finest performances in a long time, maybe forever."
At one point a loser of four straight to Murray, Federer turned things around, capturing three in a row and seven of the past eight sets. With his current form, he'd no doubt like another crack at his U.S. Open conqueror, Juan Martin del Potro, and longtime nemesis Nadal.
What a difference a year makes. Last year, Federer sobbed uncontrollably upon losing an epic five-set final to Nadal. On Sunday, it was all smiles for the world No. 1, who triumphed for the first time in a Slam as a dad.
"This is obviously terrific as well," Federer said, referring to last year's Cincinnati Masters title, his first as a father. "Maybe not as much as the dad part, but just more that I can still do it after losing the U.S. Open final."
And it was Murray who broke down this time, apologizing to folks back home for not sealing the deal.
Federer, 28, joined Andre Agassi in winning a fourth Australian Open, all against different opponents: Murray, Marat Safin, Marcos Baghdatis and Fernando Gonzalez. And he likes spreading the gloom. Eight years in a row he's won a Grand Slam, tying him with Sampras and Bjorn Borg.
Yes, Federer is slowing down, but less than some thought. Any notion of the Swiss losing drive and turning into a mere mortal after fatherhood was off the mark. Don't forget that he and his wife, Mirka, timed her pregnancy so that she would give birth between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He wanted to take care of business in New York.
Reaching the upper teens in Grand Slam titles would suit him nicely. As Federer said Friday, he didn't make the long journey to Oz with twins to leave empty-handed. He loves the sport, unlike, let's say, Agassi, if his autobiography is to be believed.
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Murray probably doesn't love tennis at the moment.
Dissimilar to their encounter in the 2008 U.S. Open final, when Federer crushed Murray in the opening set, the first here was tight.
Murray rallied from a 2-0 hole to break back and tie the match at 2. Then in the fifth game, he wasted three break points -- crucial misses, Murray said later. His unwillingness to go forward was a mainstay. In the second set, Murray retreated instead of going to the net and paid the price. Trying to serve out the third at 5-3, deuce, he lacked penetration on a short forehand, allowing Federer to dish out a good backhand that forced a volley error.
There was no excuse for Murray's muffing a short forehand into the net with the court wide-open on a set point in the third. And on a third set point, a backhand volley that Murray normally makes went wide. Federer stuck with his game plan, setting up a second match point with a wonderful drop volley.
Murray has some thinking to do. Federer isn't going anywhere, and it's evident the Scot can't beat the Swiss master in a five-set encounter unless he tinkers with his game. Meanwhile, del Potro and Marin Cilic have games to trouble Federer in a major, and Nadal figures to be a threat again after his knees heal.
"Andy needs to go out there and be aggressive in order to have a chance of beating a guy like Federer," Cash said. "He needed to be more aggressive out of the blocks. That's a start of the game he's trying to employ. He did it against Rafa, and it looked great."
All that's for the future. This night belonged to Federer, again.
Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.