Tuesday 20 February 2018

Tennis: Murray aims to keep focus for Djokovic 'pain game'

Andy Murray celebrates a point during his semi-final victory over Roger Federer
Andy Murray celebrates a point during his semi-final victory over Roger Federer

Paul Newman at Melbourne Park

Judging by his subdued post-match press conference here, you might have thought that Andy Murray had just lost to Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, but the Scot was all too aware that his biggest challenge is yet to come.

Not even beating the greatest player in history for the first time in a Grand Slam or playing some of the best tennis of his life in a thrilling 6-4 6-7 6-3 6-7 6-2 victory was a cause for celebration.

The only thought in Murray's mind was to preserve his energy in preparation for tomorrow's final against Novak Djokovic.

In the Open era, no player has ever followed up his maiden Grand Slam title with victory in the next event – the last player to do so was Lew Hoad in 1956 – and Murray knows the size of his task as he attempts to build on his victory over Djokovic in last summer's US Open final.

Djokovic, the world No 1, has won the title here three times and was in sensational form in his semi-final on Thursday against David Ferrer, after which Brad Gilbert, Murray's former coach, said he had "never seen anybody hit the ball better or more cleanly".

Not only does Djokovic have the advantage of an extra day's rest before tomorrow's final, he also had a much less strenuous semi-final, Murray having taken four hours to reach his sixth Grand Slam final.

When Murray was asked why he appeared so downbeat after such a memorable victory, he replied: "It was a long, long match. It's a very late finish. I'm tired. I don't want to be wasting any energy, because I'll need all of it if I want to win against Novak.

"I'll have to be ready for the pain against Novak. It's usually a physical match."

If confirmation were needed that Murray and Djokovic have replaced Federer and Rafael Nadal as the game's greatest rivalry, it came with the 25-year-old Scot's masterful victory over the 31-year-old Swiss.

The scoreline did not reflect Murray's superiority. But for the two tie-breaks, in which the Scot played poorly by comparison with his level at other times, and one loose service game early in the fourth set, the world No 3 was much the better player.

Having proved that he could beat Federer in a five-set match with his emphatic victory over the Swiss in last summer's Olympic final, and with his confidence reinforced by his victory over Djokovic in New York, Murray never looked overawed.


Federer, 17 times a Grand Slam champion, can intimidate any opponent with the quality of his play, but it was the Swiss who looked rattled as Murray took charge.

For the great majority of the points, Murray was the aggressor, the man with the masterplan. If Federer had actually managed to sustain his comeback and claim that deciding set, it would have been one of the great steals in tennis history.

As one observer put it, this was a rare example of a five-set thrashing.

Murray hit more aces, more winners and fewer unforced errors. He dictated the pattern of the contest and Federer managed to stay in touch only through his match-craft and competitive fire – two elements of his game that are vastly under-rated, simply because he makes it look so easy.

After the Scot had cracked one of many passing shots beyond his reach towards the end of the fourth set Federer shouted angrily at Murray, who responded with a simple smirk.

Both players downplayed the incident afterwards and refused to reveal what Federer had said – "It was very, very mild in comparison to what happens in other sports and there were no hard feelings," Murray said – but the incident underlined the pressure Federer was under.

Federer went on to break serve and take the set to a tie-break, which he won 7-2.

"He definitely raised his level," Murray said afterwards. "In that game I think he hit two balls onto the line and was extremely aggressive after that.

"I didn't play the best tie-breaker. It's hard when you're serving for a place in the final of a Slam and you lose it and then a few moments later you're back into a fifth set.

"But he took a toilet break and I had a bit of time to think. I'd put myself in a winning position and just had to think to myself what I'd done to get there, then make sure I did it at the beginning of the fifth set."

Murray was as good as his word as he came out and rattled off three straight games. He even drove a ball at Federer from short range in the style of his coach Ivan Lendl as if to remind him who was in charge here.

This time, he would not relinquish his advantage, landing more than two-thirds of his first serves in that final set to end any question of a turnaround.

Federer, generous in defeat, agreed that Murray had been the better player. "I think he started off serving well and in the fifth set obviously he did well," Federer said.

"I think he played a bit more aggressively because he did create more opportunities over and over again." (© Independent News Service)

Australian Open,

Live, Eurosport/BBC2, 8.0/8.25

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