ANOTHER grand slam final, another Australian Open final, but this time it is different. This time Andy Murray is ready.
It was just four short months ago that the Scot stood in the locker room at the US Open and worried whether he had it in him, either physically or mentally, to beat Novak Djokovic and win a grand slam title. Five hours of lung-bursting effort proved that he did and now, a new man and different player, he faces the Serb again for another major
trophy. This time, he has no fear.
“I hope it’s a painful match; that means it will be a good one,” Murray said with a wry smile after overpowering Roger Federer to book that ticket to the final. “Every time we play each other, it’s normally a very physical match. He’s an unbelievable mover and we have so many long rallies so I’ll need to be ready for pain.”
Murray is not afraid of pain, not now that he knows what it takes to win the big titles. His four-hour 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 pummelling of Federer in the semi-final yesterday was proof that he has moved on to another level since that famous night in New York when he ended Britain’s 76-year wait for a male tennis champion. No matter whether he was leading of trailing, no matter whether he was frustrated or flying,
Murray stuck to his game plan. Ivan Lendl did not crack a smile or raise an eyebrow, but he was a very satisfied man.
“It is always good to win,” Lendl said. “Roger is never an easy opponent and it is never easy to beat him. Playing Roger is never easy and he stepped it up when he had to and Andy was fortunately able to produce when he had to as well. What pleased me most? Winning the last point.
“He did well to come back in the fifth set after twice leading, but that is what he trained for. He trained for it physically and he trained for it mentally. He tried to focus on every point in practice, then it is easier in the matches that way. That is what you have got to do.”
Murray had never beaten the Swiss in a grand slam tournament, a fact that can prey on a fellow’s mind as he tries to serve out on match point. He had, however, beaten Federer in the Olympic final and that, clearly, gave him confidence and a sense of calm authority. Even though he donated both tie-breaks to the world No 2 and failed to serve out at the end of the fourth set, there was a determined, aggressive and dominant air about Murray. He was the better player and Federer was not going to be allowed to win.
Not even when the former champion lost his rag as Murray walloped another winner past him – Murray was serving for the match at the time – did the Scot let his composure slip. As the forehand whistled past Federer’s racket, the Swiss stormed to the net and told his tormentor to “f***ing stop!”. Murray just sneered and got on with the job in hand.
“I wasn’t that surprised,” Murray
said. “I mean, stuff like that happens daily in tennis matches. It was very, very mild in comparison to what happens in other sports. It’s just one of those things.
“I think it didn’t rattle me. I think he raised his game and that’s what happens. Sometimes guys need to get emotion into the match. He definitely raised his level in that game. I think he hit two balls on to the line and was extremely aggressive after that.”
Federer’s moment of supremacy was brief. He broke Murray’s serve to take the fourth set to a tie-break, won the shoot-out, but then was powerless to stop the world No 3 from running away with the final set.
By the end, Federer looked physically tired and emotionally spent; he could find no way to hurt Murray. The man who had flattened him in the Olympic final was bullying him in the Australian Open semi-final.
“He’s put himself in that situation time and time again,” Federer said, “so obviously with the win I think at the Olympics and the US Open, maybe there’s just a little bit more belief or he’s a bit more calm overall.
“You want to be excited, but you don’t want to go overly crazy on each and every point, so it seems like he has more peace when he plays out there, and in the process he has better results, I guess.”
If anyone had imagined that Murray’s easy run to the semi-final would leave him underprepared as he took on the might of Federer, they were soon proved wrong. The Scot’s serving was powerful and it was bludgeoning with 21 aces and, in the first couple of sets, 50 per cent of his first serves proving unreturnable. He hit 19 more winners than the Swiss and 13 fewer errors and he won 26 more points, the equivalent to a set and a couple of points. Apart from the very first game of the match when he held his own serve, Federer was never ahead in the match.
Murray will spend today resting, recovering and spending only the shortest amount of time on the practice court, but behind him will be Lendl and he will be plotting and planning. The stone-faced mentor regards finals at this level as a war and he knows that Djokovic is a savage foe. Yet Murray knows how to beat him – and this time he knows he can do a little better than in New York.
“The task isn’t any easier,” Murray said. “I’m obviously playing Novak again on this court. This has been his best court for sure, so I’m aware of how tough it will be to win the match. There were moments in the US Open final where I could have closed out sets a bit quicker. I think the tie-break [lasting 24 minutes at the end of the first set] was a good example of how nerves can work in those sort of matches. It was not the prettiest tennis, so hopefully I’ll play a little bit better.”
Bear this in mind: the more painful it is, the better Murray will like it.
ROUTE TO FINAL
NOVAK DJOKOVIC (No 1 seed)
First Round: beat Paul-Henri Mathieu (Fra), 6-2, 6-4, 7-5.
Second Round: beat Ryan Harrison (USA), 6-1, 6-2, 6-3.
Third Round: beat (31) Radek Stepanek (Cze), 6-4, 6-3, 7-5.
Fourth Round: beat (15) Stanislas Wawrinka (Swi), 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 12-10.
Quarter-finals: beat (5) Tomas Berdych (Cze), 6-1, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Semi-finals: beat (4) David Ferrer (Spa), 6-2, 6-2, 6-1.
ANDY MURRAY (No 3 seed)
First Round: beat Robin Haase (Neth), 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.
Second Round: beat Joao Sousa (Por), 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.
Third Round: beat Ricardas Berankis (Lit), 6-3, 6-4, 7-5.
Fourth Round: beat (14) Gilles Simon (Fra), 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.
Quarterfinals: beat Jeremy Chardy (Fra) 6-4, 6-1, 6-2.
Semi-finals: beat (2) Roger
Federer (Swi), 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-7 (2-7), 6-2.