James Lawton: Federer rages at the dying of the light as his old mystique is stripped away
Murray made him appear not only ageing and tired byt edgy and querulous, someone ready to pick an argument with anyone
If it really is the end of Roger Federer as the most brilliant and resilient figure in the history of tennis we cannot say with absolute certainty that it is Andy Murray who has shown him the door.
Not yet, not with any decent respect for achievements so sublime and so relentless they are never likely to be surpassed, because we should remember this assertion was made on behalf of Rafael Nadal as long ago as four and a half years when he beat the great man on Wimbledon's Centre Court in a final some hard judges said could never be bettered.
That claim was violently premature, as Federer established exquisitely with five more Grand Slam titles, but in Melbourne today Murray did rather more than the currently disabled Spaniard.
He not only beat Federer, he announced that he had moved, finally, into a clearly superior category, younger, faster, stronger and capable of playing some quite astonishing shots. Six years, and 16 Grand Slam titles his junior, he did something to Federer that could not be obscured by the running time of four hours, and five sets, of their Australian Open semi-final. He took away more than Federer's hopes of maybe one last big-time duel with the ferociously in-form Novak Djokovic.
He stripped down massive amounts of both his mystique and his competitive charm.
He made Federer look mortal in some ways that we had rarely if ever seen before. He made him appear not only ageing and tired but edgy and querulous, someone ready to pick an argument with anyone, himself, an umpire, a line judge, maybe even the world, and this wasn't Federer. It used to be Murray but we only had a flash or two of that gesticulating destroyer of his own best hopes.
Murray consigned the distraught figure to a part of the past of this place where he was so curtly dismissed in three sets by first Federer, then Djokovic in the finals of 2010 and 2011. After the first debacle, Federer was kind enough, saying that Murray undoubtedly had the talent to one day win a major. A year on, though, the prediction seemed like a parody of reality when Djokovic picked Murray apart. It was a mis-match of grotesque proportions and much of it saw Murray raging at his entourage, the roof and not least himself.
Now such emotion was without a hint of encouragement in the stony countenance of his coach Ivan Lendl. Once again there was a mountain of evidence that the former Gland Slam winner, a man whose only serious ache is that he never carried off Wimbledon, has made not so much a new player as a new man out of Murray.
This one not only exudes power and imposing fitness but a level of self-belief that pre-Lendl was quite unimaginable. This new creation doesn't unravel at the first passing mishap. This one produces stunning strength at a place which in the past would have been broken.
Whenever he slipped against Federer today his first instinct was not to panic but re-make himself. He did it with a series of shots that were both lacerating and fearless.
For Federer it was to be in the eye of a prophecy he made so cheerily in the once familiar rush of triumph.
Now he was ransacking the last of his ability to win tie-breaks in the second and fourth sets, his sixth and seventh out of eight against Murray, but if this made the pulses of his most devoted followers race once more, his opponent coldly returned to the business of dominating a man he had never before beaten in a Grand Slam event.
Swift revenge for Federer's Wimbledon triumph last summer came in the Olympic final, but if a gold medal is something to treasure, it is not the same as beating the champion of champions in one of the four tournaments that matter most.
Nor does it compare with gaining the right to face down the rampaging Djokovic in your sixth Grand Slam final.
Murray beautifully defined the nature of the contest which tomorrow seems certain to rivet the tennis world as profoundly as that unforgettable Federer-Nadal collision in 2008.
That duel was about a haunting balance between the power of the young Majorcan and the most subtle Swiss. It made for rallies which carried the match from one crescendo to another and then just before the climax it brought a backhand down the line from Federer which some still swear was the best, the most nerveless shot they have ever seen.
What Murray now anticipates is an altogether different contest, one of withering forehands and the most brutally administered backhands and the kind of devouring movement guaranteed to drain the life out of all but the most resolute fighter. Murray said, "I hope it is a painful match as this will mean it is a good one."
Good one? It has the destructive potential of something like the dispute at the OK Corral.
Murray did not seem overly impressed when the old champion Jim Courier suggested it was probably a good thing he had not seen too much of Djokovic's evisceration of the normally obdurate Spaniard David Ferrer in the other semi-final.
The implication was that the man from Dunblane might just have suffered a sharp attack of intimidation. It did not seem so likely, not in the wake of Murray's absorption of the best Federer could conjure and his frequently savage response.
Shortly before Federer's last stand in the second tie-break, which astonishingly he won with the loss of just two points, the Swiss master greeted a Murray passing shot with what seemed to be an expletive. There was a suggestion that he was complaining about an element of gamesmanship in the delivery of the Scot's serve but Murray's reaction could hardly have been more imperious. "Whatever," he snarled as he returned to the baseline with another point – and another reason to believe that his progress to the showdown with Djokovic had become a formality.
It was one which would have still a scattering of some remnants from the best of Federer's past but not nearly enough, it had become utterly clear, to dress up an illusion that he was about anything more than saving a little face.
The Murray who collected his first major in New York last September, after running through a broken Djokovic in the final set, had rarely shown more touch or resolution.
When Federer performed his latest tie-break ambush it was maybe forgivable to speculate that he might once again be contemplating still more defiance of the dying of the old light. Certainly there was encouragement in the set of his jaw-line and the pumping of his fist. Unfortunately for him, Murray had never been less susceptible to the aura of a great man.
Murray's body language could hardly have been more eloquent as he raced through the final set like a man briskly recovering lost belongings. Whenever Federer convinced himself that there might still be a chance, when he attempted to lock into the fact that he remained just one break of service away from what would have been astounding parity, Murray felt obliged to set the record straight.
He produced overwhelming conviction and a brutal virtuosity. A second service which had briefly become a neon-lit embarrassment was placed in the margins of an irresistible charge to the finish line. His total of aces reached 21. His belief that he would meet Djokovic soared.
His objective was not so much to usher Federer down the high road of sports history. That was merely the by-product of his belief that he was indeed the right man to stand in the path of the world's best player. He said he looked forward to the final of pain. The diagnosis must be one of competitive bliss.
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