Federer turns up the heat on Murray with verbal volley
Swiss says pressure is on Scot to win first British Grand Slam 'in 150,000 years'/ World No 1 says his opponent 'crumbled' when they met in the 2008 US Open final
Saturday 30 January 2010
We knew about Roger Federer's majestic forehand, his unreadable serve and his ice-cool temperament, but another quality was evident here last night as the greatest player in history prepared to face Andy Murray in tomorrow's Australian Open final.
Murray should take it as a compliment that within moments of earning a place in his 22nd Grand Slam final Federer was indulging in the sort of mind games you would expect of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Interviewed on court after his crushing 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 semi-final victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Federer was asked about the challenge Murray would pose. "I know he'd like to win the first [Grand Slam title] for British tennis in, what is it, 150,000 years," the world No 1 joked, to the amusement of the crowd. "The poor guy has to go through those moments over and over again."
The words may have come out in a moment of frivolity and Federer may not have set out to wage psychological warfare, but that was how the comments came across. The Swiss even rubbed it in with remarks that could be interpreted as mocking Murray's reputation as one of the game's great strategists.
"It's always very tactical against him," Federer told his interviewer. "Andy, if you're listening to me, here's how it will go. I'll come in on your backhand and you'll pass me. I'll drop-shot you and you'll lob me. I'll hit it between the legs. It will be something like that."
An hour later, in his post-match press conference, Federer tightened the screw, suggesting that Murray may have "crumbled" at the US Open last year under the pressure of expectation after losing to the Swiss in the New York final 12 months earlier. Murray, suffering from a wrist injury that was to keep him out for six weeks, lost in the fourth round.
Federer continued: "He's in his second Grand Slam final now. I think the first one's always a bit tougher than the second one, but not winning the first one doesn't help second time around. He's also playing me, someone who's won many Grand Slams and been able to win here three times. I know what it takes and how to do it, which is definitely an advantage."
"I don't feel like the pressure's really on me having to do it again, because I've done it before. I think he really needs it more than I do. I think the pressure's big on him. We'll see how he's going to handle it. It's not going to be easy for him, that's for sure."
As for the 150,000-year wait for a British Grand Slam winner – it is actually 74 years since Fred Perry won the last of his major titles – Federer said: "That's the question he probably gets asked quite a bit. I wouldn't be surprised if he's a bit fed up by it. I think he's done really well handling the pressure considering that the media in England is very strong. So I think he's done great under the pressure."
While Federer will have the benefit of experience and the knowledge that he beat Murray in his only previous Grand Slam final, there are plenty of other reasons why the 22-year-old Scot might smile at his opponent's efforts to establish a psychological edge. Murray is one of a select group of current players, headed by Rafael Nadal, who have won more matches against Federer than they have lost.
Federer always denies that Murray, a counter-puncher with the ability to take more blows than almost anyone in the game, gets under his skin. That did not sound like the case after he lost to the Scot in Dubai two years ago, when he said he was surprised Murray's game had not developed and that he would "have to grind very hard for the next few years if he's going to keep playing this way."
When reminded yesterday of their head-to-head record, Federer acknowledged that Murray was "a good player" but added: "Without taking anything away from him, I think a few times I wasn't at my very, very best. In Dubai I had just came back from mono [glandular fever]. We had some close matches where I thought I was in control and I ended up giving the match away by making errors."
While Federer spent yesterday concentrating on his semi-final, in which he swept aside a lacklustre Tsonga with a display of almost faultless tennis, Murray trained for just 90 minutes, having reached the final 24 hours earlier. Both men have looked in top form here, Murray dropping only one set and Federer just two.
Had the world No 4 – who will rise to No 2 if he wins – thought of what it might be like to win his first Grand Slam title? "It's just something I've always wanted to do," Murray said. "I know that if I do it, it will be a huge weight off my shoulders and I'll play better after I do it. I'll try my best to do it this time. If it doesn't happen, I'll try to do it again. But I will stay the same person regardless. Just in tennis terms I will be a lot more relaxed when I'm on the court."
Murray admitted he had felt low after losing to Federer in New York two years ago but added: "Reaching a Slam final these days is such a difficult thing to do that you don't look back on it as a failure. Considering the players that I beat to get there, it was a great tournament for me. This one's no different, but obviously I want to win."
On that occasion Murray had less than 24 hours to prepare after completing his rain-delayed semi-final against Nadal. "It just seemed like it all came round really quickly. That's the one thing I remember about it. Obviously this time I've got a bit longer to think about it and get myself prepared."
Only three other British men have reached a Grand Slam singles final since Perry won the 1936 US Open. Bunny Austin lost to Donald Budge at Wimbledon in 1938, John Lloyd to Vitas Gerulaitis here in 1977 and Greg Rusedski to Pat Rafter in New York in 1997.
Is the time right for Murray to end Britain's long wait? In recent times most first-time Grand Slam winners have been younger than the 22-year-old from Dunblane, but Federer won the first of his record 15 major titles when he was just a month away from his 22nd birthday and Murray has always said that he does not expect to reach his peak until his mid-twenties.
There is a sense, too, that now might be the time for a changing of the guard. There are long-term doubts about the fitness of Nadal, who yesterday announced that he would be out for a month to treat his knee injury, while question marks remain over Federer's continuing motivation given that he broke Pete Sampras' record number of Grand Slam titles last year and now has two daughters to think about. Should he win tomorrow, Federer would become the first father to win a Grand Slam title since Andre Agassi in 2003.
Of the rising generation, Juan Martin del Potro stole a march on Murray by winning the US Open four months ago, Novak Djokovic won here in 2008 and Marin Cilic is coming up on the rails.
"There have been a lot of different guys getting deep into the Slams the last few years, but of the 16 I've played Federer and Nadal have won 14 of them," Murray said. "They're obviously still the best in the world and deserve to be there. It's my job, and the guys behind's job, to try and close that gap."
Breaking down great British hope: Pluses and minuses of world No 4 armour
Double-handed backhand is best in the business, combining power, accuracy and reliability. Sliced backhand is also a useful weapon, particularly when he approaches the net and hits it low, spinning away from a right-hander's forehand.
Return of serve
Murray sees the ball early and his lightning reflexes make him one of the best returners. He copes well against even the biggest of servers.
Murray is at his happiest against an attacker who charges forward. A natural counter-puncher, he loves having a target to pass at the net.
Not many can hit their serves harder than Murray, though he also varies it to good effect. Swinging serve into the deuce court is particularly productive.
A Murray speciality, employed with exquisite skill and touch. Always a useful ploy when trying to break a baseliner's rhythm.
Variations of pace
Many opponents are caught out by Murray's ability to follow a sequence of slices or half-court balls with sudden accelerations from either flank.
Winter boot camps in Miami have done wonders for his strength and fitness. If the final is a marathon there is no danger of Murray running out of steam.
Track work has helped develop his natural speed. Murray is devastatingly quick, as he showed in the semi-final "wonder point" to break Cilic in the second set.
Murray rarely gets his game-plan wrong. He can list almost any player's strengths and weaknesses and remembers past matches in fine detail.
Can lack penetration and is sometimes too easily read. Knowing how sound the rest of his game is, opponents will often target his second serve.
Less of a problem than it used to be, but there are still times when Murray goes into his shell and concentrates on defence rather than attack.
Not as reliable as his backhand. Can hit huge shots when he flattens it out but can also miscue on more routine forehands.
Murray is so confident in his abilities and tactical nous that he can persevere too long with shots or strategies when they are not working.
Too many options
When you have as many weapons in your locker as Murray it can occasionally be a problem knowing which to deploy.
Team Murray: Men behind great Scot
Murray's main coach, a former British Davis Cup player, succeeded Brad Gilbert at the end of 2007.
Physical conditioner who introduced Murray to Bikram yoga. Worked with Maclagan in the coach's playing days.
Friend and occasional doubles partner. Shared Murray's apartment in Melbourne – and did most of the cooking – until he lost in doubles and mixed doubles.
Physiotherapist based at the Lawn Tennis Association's National Tennis Centre in Roehampton. Not in Melbourne.
Strength and conditioning coach who became a regular member of Team Murray at the end of 2007.
Former world No 2 and French Open runner-up who has played an increasingly important role as coaching consultant.
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