Andy Murray must batter Roger Federer into submission
Olympic gold showed need for Scot to exploit any lead against Swiss rival in today's semi-final
Andy Murray has always loved the challenge of playing Roger Federer. Not only does he relish every chance to take on the greatest player in the sport's history, but he knows he has the game to beat him, even if the Swiss has come out on top in all three of their Grand Slam confrontations, in the finals at the US Open in 2008, here at the Australian Open in 2010 and last summer at Wimbledon.
Now, moreover, thanks to his memorable victory over Federer in last summer's Olympic final, Murray knows what it takes to beat him over a five-set match on one of the game's biggest stages. To use an image from the Scot's other great sporting passion, when you have your opponent on the ropes, you have to keep battering him until he hits the floor.
As he prepared for his 20th confrontation with the 31-year-old Swiss in today's semi-finals (Murray has won 10 of their meetings), the world No 3 recalled how his gold-medal triumph at the All England Club in August had transformed his season in 2012, providing him with the platform to end Britain's 76-year wait for a male singles Grand Slam champion by winning the US Open.
"The match at the Olympics was good for me mentally," Murray said. "To have played him over five sets and to have won quickly and convincingly was good for me to realise that once you get ahead of these guys you really need to stay on top of them. That's the difference between winning and losing against the best players over five sets."
He added: "Playing over five sets is different to playing over three sets. For him I'm sure that at this stage of his career he wants to play his best tennis at the Slams.
"I think the first time I played him at the US Open I didn't feel ready. The Wimbledon final was a good one – it was a very close match and it could have gone the other way. And the final here, again I had quite a few chances in that match too. Maybe I've just not converted as many chances as I needed to against him in the Slams and that's where his experience has probably told."
Murray believes last year's Wimbledon final also played a big part in his development as a player capable of winning the ultimate prizes. "I learned a lot from that match," he said. "I went through some things in that match that I really hadn't been through before. I won my first set in a Slam final. I had my chances in the second set, and then there was the delay with the roof.
"Regardless of what I said at the time, there was pretty significant pressure on me on that day as well. I think it's very unlikely I will play another match in my career where I was under as much pressure as that. I was very emotional at the end, but I felt like I handled the match well. I think I handled the situation pretty well and obviously played some of my best tennis just a few weeks after that at the Olympics."
Although Murray has not been stretched in any of his first five matches here – he has reached the semi-finals of a Grand Slam tournament without dropping a set for only the second time in his career – he is confident that he will be able to raise his game against an opponent aiming to win the title here for a fifth time. "You just have to trust that when you are really pushed and tested in matches that your best game is going to come out," Murray said.
The prize for the winner will be a place in Sunday's final against Novak Djokovic, who is aiming to become the first player in the Open era to win this title three times in a row. The world No 1 delivered the most impressive performance yet in the men's competition here this year when he destroyed David Ferrer, the No 4 seed, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 in yesterday's first semi-final. Djokovic, who described it as "definitely one of the best matches of my career", dropped just seven points on his serve in the whole match.
If Murray wins today he will equal Fred Perry's all-time British record of 106 match wins in Grand Slam tournaments. "It would be great," Murray said when asked what such a milestone would mean to him. "I think Perry missed quite a lot of years of playing when he went professional. That kind of changed things a little bit.
"But, yes, winning matches in Grand Slams isn't easy and I'm surprised that it's that many. I think Roger just got to 250 the other night. A lot of the guys now have got some unbelievable records, so I'll try to keep winning. It would be nice at the end of my career if I could get to the 200 mark. I think that's a good target."
Remember this, Rog? Murray v Federer - four of their best encounters
Tennis Masters Cup 2008, Shanghai: Murray won 4-6, 7-6, 7-5
Murray had already qualified for the semi-finals but could not resist the chance to knock Federer out in a three-hour thriller, although he paid for his exertions the following day when he was beaten by Nikolay Davydenko. "It was a great match, probably one of the best I've ever been involved in," Murray said afterwards.
Australian Open final 2010: Federer won 6-3, 6-4, 7-6
A high-quality match and much closer than the scoreline suggested, with Federer winning only 16 more points than Murray (116 to 100). Murray led 5-2 in the third set and had five set points in the tie-break. "I can cry like Roger, it's just a shame I can't play like him," a tearful Murray said at the presentation ceremony.
Wimbledon final 2012: Federer won 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4
At the fourth attempt Murray won his first set in a Grand Slam final but the match changed after the Centre Court roof was closed early in the third set because of rain. Murray had made the running in the early stages, but Federer, a master of indoor tennis, then took charge.
Olympic final 2012: Murray won 6-2, 6-1, 6-4
Fired up by his home crowd, Murray had played with passion and conviction from the start of the tournament. Federer was swept aside in less than two hours by a wave of attacking shots from the Scot, who triumphed just four weeks after losing to the Swiss on the same court in the Wimbledon final.
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