James Lawton: Federer's style may meet its match as Murray unleashes brute force

Ferrero was not so much beaten as dismantled. It was the speed of it that left him most stunned

There could be no doubt where the ears and the tail of the bull would have gone if this had been the Plaza Monumental rather than the Centre Court.

Roger Federer would have collected them for his masterful chopping down of the tall Croatian pine Ivo Karlovic.

But then the president of the Plaza de Toros might have also given Andy Murray an award of his own. It would have been for a superb understanding of the nature of the challenge before him, which is partly to make the right noises for an increasingly expectant nation, partly to play the best tennis produced by a British male since Fred Perry won his third Wimbledon title 73 years ago.

So far so very, very good because if Federer is still looking quite beautiful at times, Murray has plainly settled on an approach that by the end of yesterday's three-set victory over former French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero was once more extremely sharp business indeed.

The vital point is that the great mano-a-mano of 2009 will not necessarily be determined by style alone, and as Federer and Murray stepped another stride closer to each other, the balance of power remained as finely drawn as it has been since the start of the tournament.

No, it is not going to be just about who looks best. It wasn't last year when Federer was eventually overwhelmed by the force of Rafael Nadal – and then Murray, who had been taken apart in the quarter-finals by the Spaniard, re-emerged in the US Open, beating Nadal in the semi-final.

Federer was too good, too silky for him in Flushing Meadows, but time and perhaps a little significant psychology has moved on. Murray has beaten Federer in their last four meetings and the possibilities remain as compelling as ever.

It is the prospect of a master against an apprentice who may just be about to exploit one of the most dramatic learning curves in the history of his sport. Yesterday the march to a Centre Court final did not lose one iota of intrigue when Murray again reminded us why probably the best player tennis has ever seen so fervently hates to play him.

It is because he is prepared to look bad before stepping out as, well, purely brilliant. That was the suffocating pattern again when Murray moved into tomorrow's semi-final against Andy Roddick after first absorbing the delicately skilled approach of Ferrero.

The 29-year-old had reason to hope when Murray scrambled at times, mixing flashes of brilliance with that dull-looking instinct just to get the ball over the net. But then before he could look up for a measured picture of what was happening to him, he was the latest victim of the tentacles of Murray's gameplan – and then cut to pieces. The three-set margin of 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 tells pretty much the story. There was a degree of uncertainty, if not worse at first, then a brilliant rush to deliver the coup-de-grace.

Part of Ferrero's encouragement appeared to be the stark and troubling evidence that Monday's five-set spectacular against Stanislas Wawrinka had left Murray with unshakeable fatigue.

After edging the first set Murray looked desperate to move on to a higher level, but for a few games more the language of his body seemed to be begging for relief. If Ferrero felt a surge of self-belief, it was taken from him quickly enough.

Murray's serving, always good, became withering. He stormed to the end of the second set with some of his best play of the last few weeks, play which hard judges believe is by far the best of his life. The backhand was at its most destructive, the running forehand returned to all its glory. Ferrero was not so much beaten as dismantled, and he admitted as much later. It was the speed of it that left him most stunned.

"You know in 10 minutes he beat me," Ferrero said. "He won the second set very fast. Everything was happening so fast. When he got to two sets up I felt tired and it got very difficult." Difficult, that is, not to be utterly outclassed – he showed some rallying skills which explained his status as a Grand Slam champion but in the matter of a force which suddenly announced that the game is a competitive nonsense. Murray made this point in the middle of the second set. At times the evidence was little short of awesome. When he finished the set with a blast of three aces, here, you could see plainly enough, was a man impatiently intent on getting down to more serious matters.

Certainly he told one questioner that the pressure of hype was among the least of his problems. This, he explained, was because hype is not his business. It is something that goes on around him for other people's pleasure and interest. His is to play tennis at the highest possible level.

Murray explained: "It doesn't make any difference the way you perform, the hype. If you spend a lot of the time reading the papers, watching everything on TV, listening to all the things that are being said on the radio, then you get caught up in it. If you ignore it you don't realise it's happening.

"No, I don't feel unstoppable. I understand that I can lose the next match if I don't play my best. That's been one of the things I've learnt, and it's made a huge difference to me over the last year or so. I realise that if I don't bring my best game then I'm gonna lost to guys like [Lleyton] Hewitt or [Andy] Roddick.

"I feel confident because I've won a lot of matches on the grass. But every day when I get up to play the matches, I know that I'm gonna have to perform very well, and that gets the nerves and the adrenaline going and makes me play well."

By late afternoon yesterday Andrew Murray was more or less awash with adrenaline. Federer had retired for the day, dressed in his new high fashion and the warmest compliments for an extremely stylish piece of work.

The hand-to-hand fight, you can be sure, continues to rage.

Star draw: Faces in the crowd at the court of King Andy

As Murray cruised through to the semi-finals, once more the stars turned out in force to get behind the British No 1.

Kate Winslet The Titanic star was watching the unsinkable Murray go full steam ahead for the final. If he were to go all the way, she could prove a handy supporter for the Brit should he need tips for an acceptance speech.

Sir Desmond Lynam No longer required for Setanta ads, the moustachioed legend was looking typically laid back, if not a little red in the sunshine.

Mervyn King A tennis enthusiast, and senior member of the All England Club, the Governor of the Bank of England has become a familiar face in the Royal Box, digesting spreadsheets along with strawberries and cream.

Lawrence Dallaglio Wearing big dark glasses, the 6ft 3in, 18 stone former England rugby captain could easily have been mistaken for Centre Court security staff.

Tim Rice The musical maestro was another big name in attendance. Possibly was there to plan his next project with rumoured working titles including: Murray and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat or Sir Desmond Lynam Superstar.

Simon Fuller The entertainment tycoon was sat close to Kate Winslet in the Royal Box, keeping an eye on his prize asset, Andy Murray.

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