Saturday, July 7, 2012
No more moral victories for Murray
By Howard Bryant ESPN.com
WIMBLEDON, England -- There are no more moral victories for Andy Murray. He already knows he can play with Roger Federer. Murray owns an 8-7 record against Fed. Murray already knows he can reach a Grand Slam final. He's done it four times now, in three majors. He knows he can withstand the pressure of expectations and history. He's finally reached a Wimbledon final on home soil.
He is at the end of his road, one that continues on for Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and others. But not for Murray, not before he pays the last toll: He has to win.
Andy Murray has a large task: Quiet all the voices who can't help but invoke the name Fred Perry.
Perhaps it won't be Sunday when he and Federer collide for history. Murray guns for his first major title and the first British Wimbledon male singles title since Fred Perry won here in 1936. Federer looks to extend his record of 16 major titles and to tie and then surpass Pete Sampras' record of 286 weeks as the world's No. 1-ranked player.
Maybe nothing can stop Federer on his quest. He, far more than Murray, should already be home, preparing for the Olympics after falling down two sets to love against Julien Benneteau in the third round and then surviving a sore back and Xavier Malisse, who was serving for the first set in the fourth round. Yet Federer is still alive -- and far more dangerous. It isn't as though there are many prizes in this game that Federer has coveted and hasn't ultimately won.
However, there is no reason why this cannot be Murray's day, why he cannot win a championship. He has the serve and the shots. Even against a beloved, six-time Wimbledon champion like Federer, Murray has a country behind him. He needs only one thing to defeat Federer: to believe that being Andy Murray is enough.
If he does not, he will panic and force the action recklessly. He will sulk when trouble arises and shed the impressive protective covering he has crafted during this tournament. For all Murray has done this fortnight -- fighting off David Ferrer, who threatened to put him in a two-set hole in the quarters, and overcoming the flawed and dangerous Tsonga -- Murray's most important achievement at Wimbledon has been his maturity and focus.
When Ferrer pestered Murray and forced him to play an extra shot, and then another, and then backed him into a corner serving for a two-set lead, the Scotsman didn't descend into his darkness. He did not yell and curse and make that so-unpleasant gesture in which he pretends to rip his face from his head. He did not often allow his fears to envelop him in the form of tentativeness, or escape from points by running from rallies with drop shots and slices and ill-advised lobs.
Instead, Murray employed a touch of Nadal -- an increase in belief. Murray hit harder, surprising Ferrer (and later Tsonga) with huge crosscourt backhands. Murray served harder, overpowering Ferrer with first serves that clocked 130 mph. Best of all for Murray, he returned well. He and Djokovic return better than anyone in the game, and though Murray lost in a first-set tiebreaker, he broke Ferrer serving for the set at 5-3 with a confident return game and again in the second set with Ferrer serving 5-4, a set Murray ultimately won.
In defeating Tsonga, it was fitting that Murray's winning shot came on a crosscourt return. He did what he did best. He has earned his position.
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The road stretches far into the future, but a toll is required. Murray has the coins in his pocket to pay the fare. He just has to believe he has exact change.
Meanwhile, Federer's great quest is not to erase Fred Perry from memory, but to satisfy a certain, delicious craving: the yearning to quiet all the voices -- perhaps some of which live in his head. These voices cannot assess Federer without framing him through the lens of tennis mortality, when the fact is quite the opposite.
Since the end of last year's U.S. Open, Federer has been the best tennis player in the world. He owned a 17-match win streak. He won the Barclay's year-end championship (again), beating Tsonga twice, winning the final. He destroyed Nadal at Indian Wells en route to a title, broke Murray's confidence in the Dubai final and continued his humiliation of Juan Martin del Potro in the French Open quarters.
Federer won the blue clay bowl in Madrid for another Masters title and won a lesser tournament in Rotterdam. He's won seven titles since Djokovic stunned him at Flushing Meadows.
But Federer has not won a major since beating Murray in the 2010 Australian Open final. In a game that is, fairly or unfairly, judged increasingly by majors, not winning in two-and-a-half years is a long time. However, there is little additional data to suggest that Federer is any nearer to retirement than, say, Murray. Federer has been saying as much. He has always believed it and knows that holding Wimbledon title No. 7 and returning to No. 1 in the process is the best and perhaps only way to prove it.