Murray can profit on front foot
Briton has added to his game since becoming a thorn in Federer's side
Tuesday 24 November 2009
Just as Tim Henman used to, Andy Murray likes playing Roger Federer. The Scot cannot match the Englishman's early record – Henman beat Federer in six of their first seven meetings – but his six victories in nine matches is more impressive given that all their meetings have been in the world No 1's prime. Rafael Nadal, who has beaten Federer 13 times out of 20, is the only other player competing at this week's Barclays ATP World Tour Finals with a positive head-to-head record against him.
Murray and Federer will meet again tonight in the second set of round-robin matches at the end-of-season showpiece at London's O2 Arena. With the top two players in both groups going through to Saturday's semi-finals, there will be plenty hanging on it. Depending on the result of this afternoon's first match between Juan Martin del Potro and Fernando Verdasco, the winner could secure passage into the last four, making their final round-robin match on Thursday irrelevant.
Since he lost to Federer in last year's US Open final Murray has had an outstanding record against him. The 22-year-old Scot beat the 28-year-old Swiss four times in succession between October and March before losing their only subsequent meeting, in Cincinnati in August, when Murray was starting to struggle with the wrist injury that eventually forced him to take six weeks off.
Henman was a rarity in that he was an attacking player who consistently got the better of Federer. Murray is more in the mould of counter-attackers like David Nalbandian and Lleyton Hewitt who often got the better of Federer in his early days.
For the most part Federer has worked out how to beat more defensive opponents, but Murray still gives him trouble. Murray's excellent returns and speed around the court, coupled with his great ability to surprise with subtle variations of pace, disrupt Federer's flow.
While the Swiss insists that Murray does not get under his skin more than any other player, there have been times when he has appeared rattled by his failure to get the better of the world No 4. When Murray beat him in Dubai last year, Federer said he was surprised that Murray had not changed his game and become a more attacking player. "He's going to have to grind very hard for the next few years if he's going to keep playing this way," Federer said at the time.
"He stands way back in the court. You have to do a lot of running and he tends to wait a lot for his opponent to make a mistake. I gave him the mistakes, but over a 15-year career, you want to look to win a point more often than wait for the other guy to miss."
Judy Murray, Andy's mother, later admitted that those comments "may have provoked a realisation in Andy that he had to become more aggressive more often if he was to challenge for the big prizes."
Murray has added to his attacking game in the last 18 months, though Federer still believes that he dictates the outcome of their matches. "When we both play well it's a close match, but I always feel it's the attacker who holds the key to success, so it's up to me whether I win or lose, not up to him," he told The Independent in an interview last week.
"It's like when Sampras and Agassi played. Agassi was more aggressive, but still Sampras holds the keys because he was serving, he was pushing the limits, he was taking the risks. Murray doesn't do that so much – though that doesn't take anything away from him. That's just his game style."
Murray should be buoyed by his memory of their previous meeting in this tournament, when his win in 2008 knocked Federer out. As both players won their first matches on Sunday that cannot happen tonight, but Murray knows all about the psychological benefits of beating the world's best.
Head to head: Murray v Federer
Andy Murray leads Roger Federer 6-3 (all matches played on hard courts)
2005 Bangkok (final): Federer won 6-3, 7-5
2006 Cincinnati (second round): Murray won 7-5, 6-4
2008 Dubai (first round): 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 – Tennis 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
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