Not even the roof could save Roger Federer this time. Three months after the mid-match closure of Centre Court's retractable cover helped to turn the Wimbledon final in favour of the Swiss, the roof here at the Qi Zhong Tennis Centre was shut during last night's Shanghai Masters semi-final as Andy Murray was about to serve for victory. On this occasion, however, the Scot needed just five points to complete a 6-4 6-4 victory after a 35-minute rain break.
Today will be an historic day for British tennis, which is enjoying a remarkable revival. While Murray, the first British male Grand Slam singles champion for 76 years, will take on Novak Djokovic in a repeat of last month's US Open final, 850 miles across the East China Sea Heather Watson was appearing this morning in her first Women's Tennis Association final.
Just three weeks after Laura Robson became the first Briton to appear in a WTA final for 22 years, Watson was meeting Kai-Chen Chang, of Chinese Taipei, in the final of the Japan Open in Osaka. Watson was also going for her third doubles title of the year, partnering the Japanese veteran, Kimiko Date-Krumm, against the Americans Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears.
Twenty-four hours after Murray struggled to overcome Radek Stepanek, the world No 3 played superbly to beat the greatest player in history. Federer has often brought the best out of Murray, who has won 10 of their 18 meetings and avenged his Wimbledon defeat by beating the Swiss in the Olympic final. Rarely, however, has the Scot outplayed him with such a measured display of attacking tennis.
From the moment he broke Federer in the opening game Murray went on the attack. The world No 1, who had the overwhelming support of a packed and boisterous crowd, struggled with his serve throughout – he was broken again in the fifth game of the first set after three successive double faults – but much of that was down to the pressure applied by Murray's returns. On Federer's second serves the Scot repeatedly stepped inside the baseline to bludgeon huge winning shots.
In the second set Federer saved seven break points in the opening game, during which there was an 11-minute delay for rain, but at 2-2 Murray broke again, winning the last four points with thunderous forehands. Murray was about to serve at 5-4 when rain started falling again. This time the players had to leave the court as the retractable cover – a beautiful eight-section structure in the shape of a magnolia flower – was closed, but when they returned Murray wasted no time securing victory. He is undefeated in three appearances at this tournament, having won the title in both 2010 and last year, and has beaten Federer in all three of their meetings here.
"I went for it like I did the last few times I played against him and it worked tonight," Murray said. "He didn't serve that well for him, so I was able to be very aggressive on his second serve. He maybe slowed down his first serve a little bit, so I was able to take a few more chances on the first serve."
Thirty-four days after Murray beat Djokovic in the US Open final, the 25-year-olds will renew a rivalry that goes back to their first meeting at an under-12s tournament. Djokovic, who beat Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-4 yesterday, has won eight of their 15 meetings as senior professionals, but Murray has won seven of the last 11.
"He's a bit more aggressive," Djokovic said when asked about Murray's improvement this year. "He goes more for his forehand, which wasn't his strength in the past. He's improved that stroke this year and he's more confident on the court, has more self-belief."
Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins, playing in their first Masters Series semi-final, were beaten 6-7 6-3 10-8 by India's Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna. The Britons can still qualify for the doubles competition at the Beardless ATP World Tour Finals but will need good results in their next three tournaments in Stockholm, Valencia and Paris.
Watson reached the Osaka final by beating Japan's Misaki Doi 7-6 7-5. The 20-year-old from Guernsey, ranked No 71 in the world, is likely to climb about 20 places in the world rankings if she wins the final and 15 if she loses.
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