THERE is something about tennis on a Sunday in London: it tends to involve Andy Murray and Roger Federer and it tends to produce a little piece of history.
Unfortunately for Murray, last night history was siding with Federer as the mighty Swiss knocked Scotland’s finest out of the semi-finals of the ATP world Tour Finals 7-6, 6-2. It put him through to a final appointment with Novak Djokovic tonight and gave him the chance to win his seventh Finals trophy and break his own record of success at this event.
“I would have love to have finished this year with a win,” Murray said. “But for me, this has been the best year of my career by a mile so look back at this negatively would be silly. I started the match very well, I was aggressive on the returns but then he started to serve a bit better. I hung on for the end of the first set but I couldn’t quite nick out the tiebreak and then I played a poor game to get broken at the start of the second set and he played very well after that.”
The last two times they met in the capital, Murray claimed his place in the record books as the first British man to win a singles gold medal since 1908 and as the first British man to reach a Wimbledon final since 1938.
Federer, meanwhile, added to his huge list of career achievements by winning his 17th grand slam trophy back in June in SW19 and reclaiming the world no.1 ranking. That allowed him to equal Pete Sampras’s record of weeks at the top of the tree and then go on to beat it – when Novak Djokovic knocked him off the top rung last week, Federer had spent 302 weeks as the world’s best player.
That sort of pedigree and reputation is hard to beat, although Murray is one of the few men who has managed it. His career record going into last night’s match was 10-8 against the Swiss, the last two meetings – the Shanghai semi-finals and the Olympic final – being so one-sided that Federer failed to win a set.
As Murray set off at a gallop, it seemed as history was about to repeat itself: he was easily in charge while Federer was struggling to control his forehand and was looking rattled. Error after error flew from his racket as Murray seized the early initiative and broke in the opening game. Romping to a 3-1 lead, Murray was wiping the floor with Federer until one minor error changed the momentum.
As Federer served at 15-30, Murray pulled his foe around the court to create acres of wide open space. All he had to do was put the forehand – the same shot he had been pounding with remarkable accuracy all night – into the space and he would hold two points for a double break and the first set would have turned into a rout.
But Murray missed. He sent the forehand long. He snatched at it when he had all the time in the world. Suddenly Federer was a changed man.
Realising that he had been let off the hook, he relaxed and began to play with power and confidence. Holding onto his serve, he fought back and the match that had been so overwhelmingly in Murray’s favour at first turned into a nervy game of nip and tuck.
The crowd was enjoying every minute of the exhibition but for all that Murray was the hometown hero, they were solidly behind Federer. There were Scottish voices in the crowd but there were also cheers and clapping when Murray hit a first serve fault.