Roger Federer is the best tennis player to ever step on a court. Some of us know that, yet we still believe there are younger, usurpers of the throne. And, every time we try to rally an uprising, the Swiss star reminds us just how good he truly is and how good the rest of the tour players know he is. We should remember to listen to them.
It was hard to tell if it was the Federer mystique or the weight of an empire desperate for a Grand Slam Championship that bore obvious pressure on the most talented of the young pretenders in the finals of the 2010 Australian Open. But, whatever it was, it was heavy and very much in the air from point one to the conclusion.
The pressure of knowing victory was within the grasp of young Scot Andy Murray meant he had to execute flawlessly, dictate pace and serve consistently as he had for six straight matches. Unlike his previous six opponents, the man across the net leaves no margin for error. Murray played like a man who knew he had to play just a bit better than he had.
The result was a tentative, nervous performance that only served to further elevate Roger Federer’s game. Today Roger Federer can sit back, relax and figure where on the shelf he will place his 16th Grand Slam trophy. His 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (11) victory was thoroughly convincing and dominating.
The 28-year old veteran out-strategized and out-executed his 22-year old challenger in what boiled down to a clinic on how to win a Grand Slam title, something no Brit has accomplished in 74 years. Both players arrived at the finals about as rested as could be after two weeks of competition but it was the younger Murray who was limping and gasping for air while the ageless Federer kept delivering the goods and carrying the play.
What has become clear during the Federer reign and what sometimes gets overlooked is how well the champion serves under pressure. Remember last year’s performance against Roddick at Wimbledon. When Federer needs a point, he knows where to go. The crisp efficiency pressures the receiver. Murray, acknowledged as one of the game’s best returners, could only convert on 2 of 8 break points and failed to capitalize on five set points in the final frame. With each hold, Murray became more and more unsure of himself, more desperate. When the Scot floated a harmless volley set point wide in the third set, it was more than handwriting on the wall. It was evidence of the mental strain that Federer brings to his challengers.
A packed Rod Laver Arena saw a near flawless performance by Federer as he claimed his fourth Australian title. For Murray, the wait for the Grand Slam breakthrough continues.
From the outset, Murray seemed content to work the Federer backhand. However, his ground game lacked the authority he had demonstrated in earlier matches. Meanwhile his serve could only be described as jittery. Although he gained velocity and improved his serving efficiency in the third, this much-needed weapon deserted him in the first two sets.
After leveling the match at 2-2, Murray pressured in the fifth game only to be turned back by the unflappable champion. Federer converted the break point he needed with a dazzling backhand winner in the eighth game before serving out the set.
Murray’s defensive style was allowing Federer to control the tempo and as his backhand came together, the champion began to attack more often. For the match, Roger struck 46 outright winners compared to 29 for Murray. Federer did commit more unforced errors, 42-26, but Murray’s errors outweighed his winners.
Federer only converted one of seven break points in the second set, but that was all he needed. He served through to claim a more competitive 46 minute set, but Murray’s serve still lacked its usual pace.
Murray used his speed to surprise Federer and steal an apparent drop shot winner early in the third to gain momentum. When he followed with a powerful forehand winner, he finally seemed to relax. After breaking in the sixth game to go up 4-2, the crowd rallied behind the Scot. When he held to go up 5-2, it seemed Federer might wait for the fourth set.
That is not Roger Federer. He held the eighth game and was relentless in the ninth game to knot the set. In the tiebreaker, Murray gained the early edge but could not deliver a knockout blow. The Swiss overcame the five set points and finally converted on his third match point to sweep the match.
Murray will get there. He has had success against Federer in tour events, winning four times. But the Roger Federer that comes to the Grand Slam tournaments, the game’s biggest stages, is not the Federer in lesser events. His focus, his serve and his overall demeanor is that every title belongs to him. He is not about to give anything away. If challengers want one of Roger’s titles, they will have to take it away. This guy does not beat himself, point proven… again!