Sunday 17 December 2017

Tennis: Federer destroys despairing Murray

Swiss cements greatness as tearful Scot rues key missed opportunities

Mark Hodgekinson

So, a nation's long wait came to an end in the Rod Laver Arena yesterday, with Switzerland's first Grand Slam title for six months.

Roger Federer played some classy tennis to defeat Andy Murray 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 in the final of the Australian Open, leaving the Briton pink-eyed and emotional during his post-match speech. This was the evening when Murray had hoped to become the first British male to score a slam since Fred Perry's 1936 US Open victory, but instead Federer became the first Swiss champion since himself, since he won last summer's Wimbledon.

There was no shame for Murray in losing to Federer, who took his collection of Grand Slam titles to 16, and this match would have got extremely interesting if the Scot had taken his opportunities in the third set -- he was 5-2 up and later held five set points in the tie-break.

Yet Federer won in three sets -- and then came Murray's tears. It is fast becoming a tradition at the Australian Open that the runner-up loses control of his bottom lip during the prize-giving ceremonies. Last season, Federer wept on the podium after his five-set defeat to Rafael Nadal, telling the crowd: "God, it's killing me." This time it was Murray's turn, as he was just thanking his supporters in Britain and Melbourne when it all got too much for him. Still, he thought of a good line and stepped back to the microphone to say: "I can cry like Roger. It's just a shame I can't play like him."

This year, the only Federer tears in Melbourne would have been at his hotel suite from his twin baby daughters Myla Rose and Charlene Riva, on the day he became the first father to win a Grand Slam title since Andre Agassi here in 2003.

Murray is Britain's best player of the modern tennis era, the country's most talented racquet-swinger since the 'dinosaur ball' age of flannel trousers, wooden racquets and white balls.

Yet it has been his misfortune that both his appearances in slam finals -- these two also played for the 2008 US Open -- have come against a man widely regarded as the greatest player of all time and of all nationalities.

When the on-court announcer introduced the players during the warm-up, he was listing all the years that Federer had won Wimbledon when the 15,000 spectators inside the stadium began to titter. "I haven't finished yet," the master of ceremonies said, and then proceeded to run through all the years that Federer had been the US Open champion. Murray could have not have had a trickier opponent on the other side of the net.

Royalty

In the moments after Federer took that third set tie-break by 13 points to 11, which enabled him to win this open's Norman Brookes Challenge Cup for the fourth time, that same announcer described the world No 1 as "the king, the master", adding: "We had Prince William here during the tournament, and now we have real tennis royalty, Roger Federer."

So, for the second time, Murray did not win a set in a Grand Slam final. But this was not the same as that New York final 16 months ago; this time Murray was competitive, and if he had taken all his chances he could have won both the opening and third set.

"Well done for your incredible tournament. You played fantastically and you're too good a player not to win a Grand Slam, so don't worry about it," Federer said to Murray during his on-court ceremonies.

A couple of hours before the final, it had seemed as though the match would be played under the closed roof. That would have made it the first indoor Grand Slam final in history, and that probably would have favoured Murray, who has won eight of his 14 career singles titles with a roof over his head. Yet, 10 minutes or so before the players emerged from the locker room, the roof was opened, with the final to be played under the vivid yellows, reds and blues of a beautiful Melbourne night sky. And you could hardly accuse Federer of playing grim tennis.

It was Federer who broke serve for the first time, in just the second game, when the Swiss unloaded on a forehand. Yet Murray responded immediately, playing three fine points in the next game, including striking a forehand winner for the break. Though Murray had three points to break Federer's serve again for a 3-2 lead, he could not convert any of them. It has been said in the past that it can seem as though Federer does not have any sweat-glands, that he does not perspire. But this was a sticky evening, and a stressful opening set, and Federer was doing more than just glowing.

With every game, his shirt was getting a shade darker. After seven games, he changed shirts, and, feeling fresher, he broke straightaway, taking the last two points with great winners. Federer closed out the set and broke early in the second set.

In the sixth game of the third set, Murray took a chance against Federer's serve with a forehand volley into the open court, which gave him both a 4-2 lead and a much-needed bit of encouragement. He gave a roar and gestured at the spectators to give him more energy, more noise. Murray started the next game with a flashy forehand, and soon he was 5-2 ahead.

When Murray tried to serve out the set at 5-3, he did not do much wrong, but Federer broke him. The set would be decided in a tie-break. Murray had five points to take the match into a fourth set. His best opportunities came on his second set point at 6-5, when he put a forehand into the net, and on his third chance at 7-6 when a backhand volley landed just wide.

On Federer's third match point, Murray put a backhand into the net, and the Swiss called out, emphatically: "Yeah." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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