THE great and the good had all turned up to see if Andy Murray could do it: could he reach his third Wimbledon final? Could he go on to win his second Wimbledon title? Instead, what they saw was the greatest player of all time play simply great. Greater than he has played in years.
That Murray was dispatched in straight sets 7-5, 7-5, 6-4 by Roger Federer was no disgrace, not the way Federer was playing. That thought will not have helped the world No 3 sleep any better last night, nor will it help him drag himself out of his slough of despond to refocus for the Davis Cup tie next weekend, but eventually he will be able to box off the loss and move on. As he kept saying in the immediate aftermath: “I don’t feel like I played that badly.” And he didn’t. He played some of the best tennis of his tournament; it was just that he was playing a living legend whose racket appeared to have been gilded by the gods yesterday.
The royal box was studded with sporting legends. There was Bjorn Borg and his wife (who was dressed as if she was on her way to audition for an Abba tribute band, but no matter) while Rod Laver and Manolo Santana represented the previous generation of living legends. Sir Alex Ferguson sat uncomfortably close to Thierry Henry as Sachin Tendulkar looked on. Even Dame Shirley Bassey was there (presumably because she could not get a ticket to the Ashes match in Cardiff).
Boris Becker, meanwhile, was on scouting duty as Novak Djokovic’s coach. For a couple of hours, he had been slobbing about in track pants and a polo shirt in the players’ box as he watched his charge dismiss Richard Gasquet and then, in the blink of an eye, he reappeared suited and booted in the posh seats to take notes for tomorrow’s final. And what he saw will not make for easy reading for the Djokovic camp: Federer was playing dream tennis point after point, game after game. His form never dipped and he never gave Murray a look at a chance. Federer was simply unplayable.
Murray had a break point in the opening game of the match. One. It was the only break point he saw in two hours and seven minutes. And Federer snatched it back with a service winner. In six matches and a fraction under 10 hours of play this fortnight, Federer has faced just four break points and saved all but one of them. If Murray thought that Ivo Karlovic and his monster serve was a challenge in the fourth round, he had not accounted for the great Swiss master yesterday. The Federer delivery is not hugely quick or massively powerful but it is deadly nonetheless. Every time he stepped up to the baseline, he picked his spots and he hit them time and again. He just never missed. The normal ebbs and flows of a best-of-five- sets match were depressingly absent – Federer never let up for a second. He hit 20 aces, 37 unreturned serves and landed 76 per cent of his first serves in court. If that was a good stat, the 85 per cent of first serves hit in the first set and 81 per cent in the third set were enough to make every Murray fan weep.
Murray, too, was serving better than ever – his overall first delivery accuracy came in at an impressive 74 per cent – but it was in the return games that he was being strangled. One of the best returners in the game, he could not find a way to hurt the seven-time champion at any time except in that first game. And Federer brushed off that break point as easily as he would brush a piece of fluff from his sleeve.
One thing you can’t control on a tennis court is the other guy’s serveAndy Roddick
At the end of all three sets, Federer put his foot down. He stamped out any thought of a Murray recovery, raising his game to break the Scot’s serve and take total control. Even when Murray won the epic 14-minute game in the second set, a nail-biter of five game points for Murray and five set points for Federer, the Swiss did not waver. He simply stepped up to the mark and served out to love, leaving Murray with his back to the wall again – the Scot now had to serve again to stay in the second set and Federer would not let him.
“One thing you can’t control on a tennis court is the other guy’s serve,” Andy Roddick said as he watched his old foe take control. He was cut to the quick by Federer in three Wimbledon finals and, as a former holder of the world’s fastest serve, he knows a thing or two about delivering aces, so he spoke from experience. “I watched some 50 aces go by me in the 2009 final and I don’t think he was serving as well as he is serving against Andy Murray right now.”
The crowd did their bit but, as Murray pointed out, he did not give them enough to cheer. They love Federer on Centre Court but they roar for Murray to win. When he did not give them break points to applaud or set points to hope for, they could only do so much. They will be waiting for their hero next year and, as ever, he will do his best to give them what they want, but yesterday he was powerless to stop the Swiss juggernaut.
So Federer is through to his 26th Grand Slam final, his tenth at Wimbledon, and he is chasing his eighth title in SW19. And if he serves as he did yesterday it is hard to see anyone, even Djokovic, stopping him.