How can Murray defeat the greatest of all time?

The Scotsman must focus on his many strengths – but even then he may still need Federer to fall short of his own spectacular best
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The Independent Online

Andy Murray has the tools to beat Roger Federer to win his first Grand Slam title tomorrow but the usual proviso applies: he'll need to have his very best day while Federer doesn't.

I don't want to play down Murray's achievement in Melbourne this fortnight. He's in stunning form and I see him as a World No 2 in the near future. But we need to acknowledge he's now up against the greatest.

In Murray's favour, he's continued to make impressive progress, physically, mentally, technically. He is also a brilliant thinker and strategist. No matter what a coach says, ultimately a player needs to make his own adjustments and decisions in a match, and Andy does that.

So how can he beat Roger, the 15-time Slam winner? In a nutshell, Murray needs to focus on what he does best (backhand, returns, movement, turning defensive play to winners) and try to negate the aspects of Roger's game that are superior (serve, volleys, and a range of offensive shots bigger than anyone).

Murray needs to stay in contention in points where Federer is attacking him. Fortunately, Murray is one of the best defensive players in the history of tennis. That's some claim, I know, but let me explain.

Compare Andy to one of the all-time greats, Andre Agassi, who hit those backhand cross-court shots over and over, in that aggressively defensive style. Murray has that consistency of repetition in his locker, but can switch it up so sweetly that he can junk you before you know it.

He plays drop shots without changing his grip, which is remarkable. His opponents have no idea a drop is coming. Most players change grip. Murray maintains the same grip and the same swing pattern. Suddenly: plonk, you're dead.

Murray's backhands will be vital. He hits them with the flatness of the Black Rock Desert. They remind me of Andre's, especially on the return of serve. Murray has a weapon in those double-handed backhands down the line. He can also change pace with his rollers. He can bite you with slice. He can do it all from both sides. That's how he filleted Marin Cilic in the semi-final. He kept taking him wide, and then taking him out with offensive winners.

Murray will also come in, and should. His versatility and fearlessness to mix up his game is a major strength. His volleying is much improved, simple technically but well executed in a way that harnesses the force of the incoming ball as he directs it with accuracy.

Service is obviously important. We know Federer has supreme placement allied with power, a dangerous combination. Murray's serve has improved, and he's added a heavier kicker when serving to the backhand side. This could be an area where he can exploit the Swiss. Federer stands close to the baseline for return of serve, so he can take a split step and utilise compact swing for an aggressive return. Federer is vulnerable then, especially on the backhand side, if Murray is jamming him or delivering high kickers.

Murray's own returns are excellent. Here too he can make inroads, pouncing on any defensive sitters. He also returns well against big servers because he has a strong foundation, a semi-open stance and almost no backswing.

Physically, Murray is a magnificent specimen these days, which provides the bedrock for mental excellence too. He's super quick, deceptively so. That movement and ability to recover from one shot to hit the next are due to his lower body strength. Where he did he get the ability to hit that wonderful shot around the pole against Cilic? In the gym, that's where.

Between the ears, both men are cool, calm, competitive, and hard as hell. If either gives a damn what anyone else thinks, they don't show it. Murray is ready for this, and if he'd been playing Tsonga I wouldn't hesitate to say Britain will have a Slam winner on Sunday. I do hesitate.

He's up against the G.O.A.T, and Federer's looking good, and as he keeps on mentioning (psych-ops style!) he's been there, done that, 15 times. The door is ajar for Murray. The next push is all important.

Nick Bollettieri has coached champions from Agassi to Sharapova and the Williams sisters

Past masters: Finalists' head-to-head record

*Murray leads 6-4 (all matches on hard courts)

2005 Bangkok (final): Federer won 6-3, 7-5

2006 Cincinnati (2nd rnd): Murray won 7-5, 6-4

2008 Dubai (1st rnd) Murray won 6-7, 6-3, 6-4

2008 US Open (final): Federer won 6-2, 7-5, 6-2

2008 Madrid (semi-final): Murray won 3-6, 6-3, 7-5

2008 Shanghai (Masters Cup round-robin): Murray won 4-6, 7-6, 7-5

2009 Doha (semi-final): Murray won 6-7, 6-2, 6-2

2009 Indian Wells (semi-final): Murray won 6-3, 4-6, 6-1

2009 Cincinnati (semi-final): Federer won 6-2, 7-6

2009 London (ATP World Tour Finals round-robin): Federer won 3-6, 6-3, 6-1

*Four Key Matches

2006 Cincinnati (2nd rnd): Murray won 7-5, 6-4.

Murray's first win over Federer ended the world No 1's run of 55 consecutive wins in North America and was his only loss of the year against anyone other than Rafael Nadal. Murray was broken when serving for the first set at 5-4 and when a break up at 4-3 in the second, but on both occasions he came back to break serve again.

2008 US Open (final): Federer won 6-2, 7-5, 6-2.

Federer had a day off before the final, while Murray had to play on each of the last three days. The Swiss took command after breaking serve to lead 4-2 in the first set. But for a poor line call Murray would have broken to lead 3-2 in the second. Federer went on to break to love at 5-6 and ran away with the third set.

2008 Shanghai (Masters Cup round-robin): Murray won 4-6, 7-6, 7-5

Murray had already qualified for the semi-finals and gave his all in a match that knocked Federer out. Drained by a match he did not need to win, Murray lost to Davydenko in the semis the following day.

2009 London (ATP World Tour Finals round-robin): Federer won 3-6, 6-3, 6-1

Federer gave a brilliant display, dropping only three out of 31 points on his first serve in the last two sets.

Paul Newman

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