Any doubts as to whether Roger Federer would retain the same competitive hunger after his record-breaking summer and the birth of his first children were dispelled in emphatic fashion at the Cincinnati Masters last night.
In beating Andy Murray 6-2 7-6 in a semi-final lasting an hour and 30 minutes the world No 1 gave his best performance since winning Wimbledon last month and showed that the fire burns as brightly as ever under that cool Swiss exterior.
Perhaps it was the prospect of getting one over a player who has been one of his trickiest opponents in the last 12 months that particularly motivated Federer. Since beating Murray in last year's US Open final the 28-year-old Swiss had lost four times in a row to the new world No 2, who was attempting to become only the third man after Rafael Nadal and David Nalbandian to beat him five times in succession.
Federer played superbly to inflict the first defeat on Murray since the 22-year-old Scot lost to Andy Roddick in the Wimbledon semi-finals. It was the perfect preparation for Federer in his final warm-up before the US Open, which begins in eight days' time. Federer, who today will play the winner of last night's second semi-final between Nadal and Novak Djokovic, will go to New York aiming to win the title there for the sixth year in succession.
If there was disappointment for Murray it should not overshadow what has been another superb fortnight for the Briton. Murray followed up his victory in the Masters tournament in Montreal last weekend with a run to the semi-finals here and looks in excellent shape going into his favourite Grand Slam event.
The hot and humid conditions in Cincinnati are not to every player's liking, but Murray has an excellent record in the tournament. He reached the quarter-finals in 2006, recording his first victory over Federer along the way, and won the title – his first Masters Series crown – 12 months ago, beating Djokovic in the final.
On this occasion Murray did not serve as well as he has in the recent past. In contrast Federer's serve is one of the most under-rated parts of his game and Murray, who has one of the best returns in the business, never looked likely to break him. Federer won a remarkable 52 out of 57 points on his first serve and did not have a single break point against him.
Federer has always insisted that overtaking Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles and completing his set of major titles with victory at the French Open would not weaken his desire. That certainly seemed to be the case here. The world No1's game bristled with aggression from the moment he hit a huge forehand winner down the line on the first point of Murray's second service game. The Swiss attacked at every opportunity and would have won the first set even more quickly had Murray not fought back from 0-40 when serving at 1-4. Two games later Murray saved the first set point against him with a forehand winner but was powerless on the second as a mishit Federer backhand clipped the line.
There were no breaks of serve in the second set as Murray, serving second, showed great resilience to force a tie-break, in which Federer took a 3-0 lead. Murray fought back and forced two set points of his own before serving a double fault when he served at 8-9. It was a disappointing way for Murray's tournament to end but he will go into the year's final Grand Slam tournament in good heart.
Meanwhile, Serena Williams's progress in the Rogers Cup in Toronto came to an abrupt halt in the semi-finals when she was beaten 7-6 6-1 by the fourth seed Elena Dementieva. Williams, seeded No 2, made a litany of unforced errors. She had dropped her serve only once in the tournament, but was broken five times yesterday.
In the other half of the draw, Alisa Kleybanova upset fifth seed Jelena Jankovic 6-7 7-6 6-2 to book a semi-final against Maria Sharapova. Jankovic said she was tired after thunderstorms delayed her match against Kim Clijsters.