Andy Murray arrived back in his hotel room on Friday night expecting a relaxing evening. When he walked in the door though, there was a message waiting for him on the television screen. It wasn’t the news he wanted to hear.
The message came from Roger Federer, arguably the greatest tennis player of all time. And as usual Federer’s message was all action and no talk. But if he were to put it into words, the Swiss maestro would say ‘try and beat that son’.
Murray will have to produce his absolute best if he is to have any chance of defeating Federer in the men’s final of this year’s Australian Open on Sunday night. If you hadn’t watched any of the tournament so far and had looked at where the two players were currently seeded- Federer one, Murray two- you would assume that this contest will be tight one. But in reality, Federer’s tennis at the moment is so brilliant that he is in a class of his own.
In his semi-final win against France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Federer could do no wrong. When Tsonga thought he had a point won during a rally, Federer would incredibly conjure a way to return the ball and win the point. Like Lleyton Hewitt and Nikolay Davydenko in matches before him, Tsonga had no answers for Federer. The match took only 88 minutes and left fans confused whether to feel honoured to watch such a performance or ripped off for the lack of court time they witnessed. Anyway you look at it, Tsonga was helpless as Federer annihilated the Frenchman in straight sets.
But let’s not just focus on Federer. Murray has had an excellent tournament to date as well, only dropping one set in the lead up to the final. That one set he did drop was in his semi-final matchup against Marin Cilic. The big Croation took out the first set 6-3 as Murray was pushed for the first time during the open. However, the Scotsman found another gear and with a couple of miraculous and seemingly impossible strokes from the baseline, he eventually took out the match in four sets.
It is difficult to fathom the mental pressure that Murray will be under on Sunday night. Not only will he have to contend with the very best staring him down like a bull at the other end, but he will also be carrying the weight of an entire nation on his own shoulders
The last time a British male won a grand slam event was back in the days of long trousers and wooden racquets. Back in 1936, the great Fred Perry won the prestigious Wimbledon event – that’s 74 years ago. It’s too long for many British tennis fans, and Murray has been hailed as Britain’s best and most threatening tennis player since Perry. And against the very best on Sunday night, he has the chance to do what British players like Tim Henman couldn’t do before him.
Federer’s last three matches have indicated to the tennis world that he is going to let nothing stand in the way. He dismantled Hewitt, stunned and in-form Davydenko after he lost the first set and sent Tsonga packing very quickly. If he is successful against Murray, it will take his Grand Slam victory total to 16. Even more gob smacking is the fact that Federer has competed in 18 out of the last 19 Grand Slam finals. Phenomenal isn’t it.
Unfortunately for Murray, the fate of this match lies in Federer’s hands. If Murray wins it will be because Federer lost the match. The world number one’s physical and mental strength continues to amaze. But for a man so talented and gifted, his genuine personality, humility and sincerity makes him one of the most charismatic athletes ever to grace the earth.
Murray will have to fight like hell. He must use his big serve to his advantage and make sure that a high percentage of his first serves land in. By doing that, Murray eliminates the gruelling rallies Federer forces time and time again and it will make it difficult for him to break Murray’s serve. One thing that the Brit does have in his favour is a positive record against Federer (6-4), even though the one time they met in a Grand Slam final was in the 2008 U.S. Open, where Federer won in straight sets.
But it is almost impossible to find a way, not for Murray to win the match, but for Federer to lose it. What is scary is that in and amongst all his success in his 12 year career so far, the Swiss maestro has never looked so convincing and intimidating. Murray has improved since their previous encounter in the U.S. Open final meeting 18 months ago and he has the potential to take the world number one to four sets. But that’s about as close as he’ll get to that elusive Grand Slam win. Federer is a man on a mission and he will break the hearts of Murray and an entire nation.
Winner: Roger Federer (SUI) in four sets