It was not to be. Andy Murray had never played seven times in a tournament before and his final outing here at the US Open last night proved a match too far. The 21-year-old Scot's first appearance in a Grand Slam final ended in acute disappointment, but at least he had the consolation of knowing he had lost to the player he regards as the greatest the game has ever seen.
Roger Federer, who won 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 in an hour and 51 minutes, has had his most difficult season since winning his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon five years ago, but the former world No 1 had been showing signs over the last fortnight that he is rediscovering the form that once gave him such an aura of invincibility.
He never had to hit the heights he had scaled in beating Novak Djokovic in his previous match, but Federer was too good for Murray, who appeared to pay for his efforts in having to play his semi-final against Rafael Nadal over the previous two days. The 21-year-old Scot also seemed to have a problem with the congenital condition in his right knee that has troubled him in the past.
Murray never played with the panache he had shown in beating Nadal and never moved with the same freedom, but Federer had gone into the match with a distinct advantage. Not only had he spent four hours less on court in winning his previous six matches but he had also enjoyed the luxury of preparing for the final with a day's rest, having completed his semi-final victory over Djokovic on Saturday.
Murray joins Greg Rusedski, who lost here in 1997, and John Lloyd, who lost in Melbourne in 1977, as the only British men to have reached a Grand Slam final in the Open era, while Fred Perry remains the last British man have won a major, 72 years ago.
The Scot leaves Flushing Meadows, however, with plenty of reasons to feel positive. He climbs to No 4 in the world rankings, equalling the highest position achieved by Tim Henman and Rusedski, and $1m (about £570,000) richer after receiving a bonus of $250,000 for finishing runner-up in the summer's US Open series as well as his prize money here.
Murray said the last fortnight had been "the best time of my life". He added: "I had a great tournament. I came up against the man who in my mind is the best player ever to play the game. I got the better of him the last two times we played and he definitely set the record straight today."
Federer paid tribute to Murray – "He's played great over the last two weeks and I'm sure we're going to see much more of him" – and added: "This is a very special moment in my career. I've had a difficult time at a couple of Grand Slams this year and to win this is incredible."
Having lost his Australian Open and Wimbledon crowns and his world No 1 ranking, Federer was thrilled to claim his 13th Grand Slam title, just one short of Pete Sampras' all-time record. He also became the first man since Bill Tilden in 1924 to win the US Open five years in succession. Remarkably, it is only his third title of a year in which the glandular fever he suffered in January clearly took a toll.
There had not been many Scots in evidence at Flushing Meadows over the previous fortnight, but for the finale they made their presence felt. There were a number of saltire flags dotted around the 23,000-capacity Arthur Ashe Stadium, although the majority of the fans were clearly behind Federer.
Murray is one of the quickest players, but Federer is no slouch either and looked the faster man from the outset. When Murray throws in softly-struck half-court balls it flummoxes some opponents, who are then rocked back as the Scot then ups the pace of his shots. Federer and flummoxing, however, do not go together. Whenever Murray played the ball short the Swiss stepped in to drive big ground strokes and hurry the Scot into his next shot.
Federer came out with all the swagger of a man who had won his previous 33 matches on these courts. Murray put the ball back in court on only one of Federer's first six service points and had already saved a break point at 1-2 when he dropped his serve for the first time to trail 2-4. Two games later Federer broke again to take the set, repeatedly stretching Murray with the sheer pace of his game.
Murray had won only five points against serve in the first set and when he was broken at the start of the second his task was looking immense. You learn, however, always to expected the unexpected from the Scot and from 0-2 down he won 11 of the next 12 points. With Federer starting to misfire on his serve, Murray broke the Swiss to love and had him at 0-40 in his next service game. At 15-40 Murray thought a Federer backhand had gone long but continued the point, which he lost. Hawk-Eye's cameras confirmed the ball was well out, but the chance to challenge had gone – you can call for a video review only on the last shot of a rally or immediately after the shot in question – and Federer went on to hold serve.
In the middle of the second set Murray landed awkwardly and appeared to twist his right knee. The Scot has a weakness there – his kneecap bone is in two parts, which is not a common condition – and for the rest of the match he appeared to be in some discomfort. At 5-6 Federer broke to love to take the second set. On his first set point Murray played a poor drop shot and Federer pounced to drive a forehand winner down the line. The Swiss leapt into the air and roared in celebration, sensing that he had taken a decisive lead.
With Murray clearly struggling with his knee, Federer stormed into a 5-0 lead in the final set. Typically, however, the Scot did not go down without a fight. He won the next two games and saved the first match point with two brave volleys. On the second he returned two Federer smashes, but not the third and the Swiss sank to his knees in delight.
The disappointment of not being able to show what he is capable of in the biggest match of his life may linger, but Murray can take consolation from the experience of his contemporary, Djokovic, here 12 months ago. The Serb also lost to Federer in straight sets in the final, but went on to beat the Swiss en route to his first Grand Slam title in the Australian Open four months later. Murray will be back.Reuse content