If Roger Federer got under Andy Murray's skin with his comments here on Friday night at the Australian Open, the 22-year-old Scot was doing a good job of disguising it yesterday. On the eve of his second Grand Slam final, Murray looked unruffled, unperturbed and even underwhelmed.
With a deadpan voice that even he admits is boring, Murray rarely gives much away. Besides, he has not allowed himself too much time to dwell on Federer's jibe about Britain not having won a Grand Slam title for "150,000 years", or his comment that all the pressure will be on Murray when he takes him on in Rod Laver Arena.
Murray has spent much of the time sleeping since his semi-final victory over Marin Cilic on Thursday night. In his waking hours he has practised, spent time on the physio's couch, watched films and got stuck into some Gavin and Stacey DVDs.
Did he watch Federer's post-match interview after his semi-final win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, when the Swiss mocked Britain's long wait for success? "We were all watching it and, yeah, we laughed," Murray said. "Obviously there were quite a lot of people from Wimbledon and the LTA sitting in the box. It would have been a little bit embarrassing for them."
Did it feel like 150,000 years? "I've only been alive for 22 and a little bit," Murray said, the hint of a smile crossing his face.
Did he think Federer was playing mind games in the build-up to the final? "Maybe. You'd have to ask him. He obviously deals with these situations his way and he's played very well in these circumstances. But in the last few years he's also lost a lot of close matches in five sets, including Slam finals."
Does Murray think he receives the respect and credit he deserves from Federer, who puts his losing record against the Scot down to the fact that, in his opinion, he has often played poorly against him? "To me, that stuff's irrelevant. I've always been pretty respectful about his game. He's probably the greatest player that's ever played.
"But if every time he loses to me he thinks it's because he hasn't played his best, well, every time I've lost against him I don't think I've played my best either. If I play my best tomorrow I have a chance of winning. I'll try and do that."
While Federer can take heart from his straight-sets victory at the 2008 US Open in Murray's only previous appearance in a Grand Slam final, there is no escaping the fact that the world No 4 – who will be No 2 if he wins and No 3 even if he loses – is in a very select group of men with a winning head-to-head record against the Swiss.
Murray has won six of their 10 meetings. After Federer won their US Open final, Murray beat him four times in a row, although the Swiss has won their two subsequent encounters. The first was in Cincinnati, when the Swiss came out with all guns blazing after taking a break following the birth of his daughters, and the second was at the ATP World Tour Finals in London in November.
The victory at the 02 Arena was a crushing one, Federer coming back from a set down to lose only four more games. Murray, however, was still rediscovering his form after taking a six-week break to recover from the wrist injury he suffered in the summer.
"I have a game that can cause Roger problems," Murray said. "I've played him a lot of times, so I know the way you need to play against him. I've watched so many of his matches that I know how he plays. There won't be too many surprises on the court tomorrow. I've watched pretty much all of his Grand Slam finals, or bits of them at least, so I know what to expect. I know how he's going to play. It's up to me to play my best.
"I'm going to need to play my best match ever. I'm totally aware of that going into the match tomorrow. That's what I plan on doing."
With his returns of serve, speed around the court and deep reserves of stamina, Murray knows that he can keep the rallies going longer than most players – and that Federer can make plenty of mistakes as well as winners. The Swiss likes to go for his shots; Murray's task will be to make him hurry into them. Not that Murray, who loves his boxing, will be employing rope-a-dope tactics. The tennis equivalent of backing into the ropes – waiting for your opponent to punch himself to a standstill – is a recipe for defeat against a player of such attacking brilliance as Federer. Murray will go on the attack when the opportunity arises – he will probably play serve-and-volley on occasions – and knows that he will have to take his chances.
If Federer plays his best, does Murray still think he can win? "We'll have to wait and see. I think if I play my best, I have a good chance against anyone. And at the top of any sport, it can come down to a few points here or there, sometimes a little bit of luck."
Murray pointed out that he was only 20 when he played Federer in New York. "I was pretty young," he said. "Two years later, I just feel physically more mature, mentally more mature. I have had a lot more experience in these sort of situations."
Federer concedes that Murray is now a more complete player. "He has more matches in his body," Federer said. "He knows what to expect from the crowds, from the opponents, from the conditions and everything. I think that's a big step, just playing a lot of tough matches on centre courts. He knows his fitness more now, whereas maybe in the beginning he was unsure if he was fit enough for tough matches.
"He's consistent. He's one of the best return players we have in the game. He's been able to improve many things in his game that make it harder today to beat him."
In his early days, Federer had trouble beating counter-punchers with a similar game to Murray. Lleyton Hewitt and David Nalbandian, for example, consistently got the better of the Swiss by making him hit the extra shot.
Federer, however, believes that the outcome of matches against such players is always in his hands rather than those of his opponents.
"I always felt that if I played well, I had my chance. If I don't play well, I'm going to lose. That's the way it's been against counter-punchers, guys that keep the ball in play. Hewitt used to be that way. Nalbandian used to be that way.
"I knew if I wasn't going to play a good match, you could just walk off the court and shake hands and say, 'Well done'. But I usually don't play bad matches any more. If I do, it's maybe a few games here and there, like everybody else."
Did Federer recall the last time he had played a bad match? "I don't know. A long time ago, I think."
Not as long ago as Britain's last triumph in a men's Grand Slam singles competition. It is 74 years since Fred Perry won the last of his eight major titles, at the 1936 US Open. In the subsequent 275 Grand Slam tournaments, only four British men have made the singles finals, Bunny Austin losing to Donald Budge at Wimbledon in 1938, John Lloyd to Vitas Gerulaitis here in 1977, Greg Rusedski to Pat Rafter in New York in 1997 and Murray to Federer two years ago.
Such a weight of history would normally rest heavily on the shoulders of a player, but for Murray most of the pressure that he feels comes from within. He has high expectations of himself.
"I've been training my whole life to try and do it," Murray said when asked about the prospect of winning his first Grand Slam title. "If it happens, that's fantastic. If it doesn't, there's more to life than just tennis. But, obviously, I will be giving it my best shot tomorrow.
"There is a lot of pressure on me. I put a lot of pressure on myself to play well. Knowing that this is what you have always wanted to do adds a little bit to that. But now I think I'm old enough to deal with that."
He added: "It's been a great tournament so far. I've only dropped the one set and the win against Nadal made me feel good about my game. And coming back from a set down against Cilic was good after what happened at the US Open. I've just got one more match to go now."Reuse content