Everything right for Andy Murray except phenomenal Roger Federer

THE conventional wisdom was that Andy Murray would need to win the first set if he was to give himself a chance against Roger Federer. He did.

That he would have to frustrate the great man by varying his game and refusing to be rushed. He did that too.

And that it would help if in this final Federer fell short of the sublime level of play he reached in his semi-final demolition of Novak Djokovic. That happened too, at least for some of the match.

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It all happened. And yet it was Federer who ran out the winner, taking his seventh Wimbledon title – and 17th Grand Slam in total – 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.

The principal reason for that result? Yes, there were points of the contest in which Murray could have done a little better, but that could be said of any player in any match – and in fact it was Federer who committed more unforced errors, with 38 in total compared to the Scot’s 25.

Instead of picking holes in Murray’s performance, we should simply pay homage to Federer. While he was vulnerable at times, not only in losing the first set but also in winning the second, at others he was magnificent, particularly in some of his backhand shots.

It looks so effortless, that graceful sweep of the arm, that dismissive follow-through. But the apparent ease with which the shot is carried out is only further proof of the man’s genius for the game. If it was as easy as it looks, the public courts in every town would be full of amateurs performing it with equal aplomb.

The other factor which, by common consent, played a significant part in the outcome was the Centre Court roof. Federer said after reaching the final that he hoped it would be played with the roof open, as Wimbledon is by tradition an outdoor tournament. But he is known to settle into his game exceptionally well in indoor play, and after the rain came just inside the third set and the roof was closed, he looked that bit more settled.

The words of his coach, Paul Annacone, must have had something to do with that, because it was obvious that Federer became more aggressive in his targeting of Murray’s second service. But the more general reason is that there are more variables to concern a player in the open air: sudden gusts of wind, for example, which can take him out of his comfort zone. And Federer likes being in his comfort zone very much, because once he is installed in it he is extremely difficult to dislodge.

The rain, which forced that 40-minute interruption in the third game of the third set came as no surprise at all in what has been one of the wettest and most meteorologically dispiriting of Championship fortnights. Indeed, the real surprise was the bright sunshine that broke through the clouds not long before the players walked out to a standing ovation from the crowd of 15,000.

The majority of that capacity attendance had something more to cheer too, within minutes of the match beginning, as Murray broke Federer’s serve in the opening game. It was a curiously hesitant start from the No 3 seed, who has been king of these courts so often that we expect him to be unfazed by anything that might happen to him here. Yet here he was, looking like the novice on this biggest of tennis stages.

Murray, conversely, seemed utterly at home. Playing in his fourth Grand Slam final, having lost the first three in straight sets, he was under pressure to get off to a good start. Oh, and there was the little matter of being the first Briton in the men’s singles final since Bunny Austin lost in 1938. And the aim of being the first to win it since Fred Perry took the third of his three titles two years earlier.

For much of the sporting year, when we are embroiled in the endless fascinations of Scottish football, that statistic may seem just an abstract curio. But during this fortnight, especially in SW19 where tens of thousands of British tennis enthusiasts are painfully aware of it, it becomes very real indeed.

Yet, no matter the weight of history bearing down on Murray, he gave no sign of feeling burdened by it. Federer did break back in the fourth game, and he had his opponent under pressure in the eighth as well, when Murray had to dig deep to save two break points. But once that game was salvaged, the tables were turned: Federer was broken all too easily to go 4-5 down, and Murray wrapped up the set with ease.

At his tenth attempt, the No 4 seed had won a set in a Grand Slam final. He had not been serving at his best, but still he had the lead. It was a morale boost that he took into the second set, during the first half of which he remained the better player. He had two break points in the fifth game, and another couple in the ninth, but on both occasions Federer held on.

If the set had gone to a tiebreak, and if Murray had won it, perhaps there would have been no way back for the Swiss player. Instead, after going 30-0 up on his serve when 5-6 down, Murray faltered. He sent a lob long to give a set point to Federer, who then took his chance with a stun volley at the net that went spinning tantalisingly out of Murray’s reach.

When the rain came in the third set with the score at 1-1 and 40-0 on Federer’s serve, it was a welcome break for Murray. Although, by definition, a five-set match becomes a best-of-three contest when the first two sets are shared, that does not necessarily mean that it feels to both competitors as if they are starting from scratch. There was little doubt when the rain came that the momentum was with Federer, and that the break gave Murray a chance to clear his head.

The intention, according to the referees’ office, was to leave the roof open and remove the court covers after what was supposedly a brief shower had passed. Then, having been told there was a 70 per cent chance of further heavy showers, they opted to close the roof instead. It was the first time it had been used for the men’s final.

Play resumed sedately for a couple of games, but then, serving at 3-2 down, Murray became embattled in a deadly struggle. From 40-0 he lost his way – and lost his balance too, falling on his left hip while going for a drop shot.

There were ten deuces in that game, which lasted around 20 minutes, and at last it was settled in Federer’s favour. It was an agonising loss for Murray, and there was no way back for him in the third set, which Federer closed out with minimal further fuss.

Throughout much of the fourth set Murray appeared in pain, grimacing at times as he strained to reach a shot. When he was broken again by a sublime cross-court back hand from Federer to go 3-2 down, there seemed no way back.

The new world No 1 has been written off before, and has had serious back problems at times. With victory in sight, however, it was the 30-year-old who looked the younger of the two protagonists, not the 25-year-old Murray.

The Scot served solidly after that without threatening Federer’s own serve, then it came time for the man who first won this title in 2003 to claim his seventh crown. He took it on his second match point when Murray could not keep a return in.

So the dream is over for another year, but as Murray rightly said: “I’m getting closer.” And on the BBC, Boris Becker, who knows what it takes to win Wimbledon, summed it up perfectly: “He lost to a better player today. There’s no disgrace in losing to Roger Federer.”