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Saturday, July 7, 2012
What to watch in Federer-Murray

By Kamakshi Tandon
ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- It'll be offensive creativity versus defensive creativity when Roger Federer faces Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final. If the French Open final was a clash of tennis history, with Rafael Nadal going for a record seven titles and Novak Djokovic going for a Novak Slam, then this one is a clash of fairytales.

After being declared a fading force, Federer could in one fell swoop win his record-tying seventh Wimbledon title, extend his Grand Slam title record to 17 and break the record for all-time weeks at No. 1. Meanwhile, Murray could finally grab his elusive major after three losses in finals and end Great Britain's 76-year wait for a men's Grand Slam winner at home with the nation watching.

They've played 15 times with Murray leading 8-7, but never on grass. The surface should favor Federer, but Murray will have huge home support. Outside Britain, however, the 30-year-old Federer is probably the sentimental favorite as he goes for another great run after the recent dominance of Nadal and Djokovic. Who will end up heartbroken? Here's what to watch for during the match.

The crowd

Murray has come up flat in his past three Grand Slam finals, so the biggest thing will be whether he will be inspired by the crowds or feel the weight of expectation. Winning any major would be huge for Murray, but doing it at home would be another level altogether, so how he handles the occasion is likely to be key to the match.

"I'm going to need all their help on Sunday because, yeah, it's a massive challenge to win against Roger," Murray said. "I hope that all of the crowd is with me. Like I say, I'll need all of their support."

As for Federer, he's too well-liked for the crowd to be actively hostile toward him, but it will be unusual for him not to have them actually cheering for him.

"I always say, in whatever country I am, I like to play the local hero. I kind of call them, and Andy is exactly that here at Wimbledon," Federer said. "I hope I have some crowd support, but it's not the very most important thing right now."

The pressure

Interestingly, both players agree that the pressure is on Federer.

"It's a great challenge, one where I'm probably not expected to win the match, but one that, you know, if I play well, I'm capable of winning," Murray said. "If you look at his record here over the past 10 years or so, yeah, it's been incredible. So you know, the pressure that I would be feeling if it was against somebody else I guess it would be different."

It's a contrast to their meeting in the 2010 Australian Open final, when Federer joked there was a lot of pressure on Murray because there hadn't been a British Grand Slam men's winner in, "what is it, 150,000 years?"

But that source of pressure remains, too, no matter what the players say and is only heightened by the fact that Murray will be playing at home.

The serve

The serve will be key for both players. Federer's fine serving was crucial in grabbing control of his semifinal against Djokovic and will also be key against Murray, another of the game's best returners. And whenever Murray has defeated Federer in the past, he has usually had a good serving day. Without that important first strike, both will find themselves trapped in long rallies on their own service games, which is the last thing they want.

The tactics

Both players are master tacticians, so there'll be a lot happening between the lines.

Federer will naturally be looking to attack and finish points on his own terms, avoiding the cat-and-mouse that Murray puts his opponents through. But if Federer is having a good day and hitting a lot of winners, Murray will have to step up and go on the offensive himself, because otherwise he'll find himself pushed aside like their other two Grand Slam final meetings. The tricky thing for Murray is managing to go for it without making too many errors himself, because the one thing he can't afford to do is give Federer too many free points.

Murray's forehand is considered the weak part of his game, but it's been holding up well so far during this tournament. Will Federer test it thoroughly or decide to mix it up and surprise the Scot? As for Federer, his forehand is his biggest weapon, but it can also yield a lot of errors. Will Murray try to bait him?

And what if the roof is closed? The lack of wind should help Federer's serve and shot-making, but players also say the most humid conditions slow play down, which could aid Murray.

The start

Each of their past five matches has ended in straight sets, but Federer's loss from two sets up to Tsonga last year means Murray will maintain his belief even if he goes down early.

"I think on grass, more than the other surfaces, matches can change quite quickly," Murray said. "Most of the sets are normally decided on one or two break points or a couple of mistakes here or there or a couple of great shots. The sets aren't normally 6-1, 6-2 sets. Even if I lose the first set or the second set, you can always come back."

Federer knows this too, having come from two sets down to defeat Julien Benneteau earlier in the tournament.

The end

After coming through the trickiest draw of any of the top seeds, Murray is definitely match-tough, but his semifinal opponent, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, felt he was getting a little tired in their third set. Murray also had a tough match in the quarterfinals against David Ferrer, while Federer has had two relatively quick finishes.

Meanwhile, at 30 and with some back struggles earlier in the week, Federer's stamina could also be tested if the match goes long.

Both have been having back problems. In fact, Murray had eight pain-killing injections before the French Open, so all the bending and stretching on grass could leave both of them quite sore by the end.