There are no secrets between Roger Federer and Andy Murray. After 15 encounters (8-7 in Murray’s favour), neither will expect to spring any real surprises in Sunday’s final. With so little to separate them, what should each player try to do in order to avoid yet more post-final tears?
Historically, Federer has been most successful against Murray when he has been able to come out on top in their lengthy cross-court backhand exchanges.
But given that Murray has, by all accounts, one of the best two-handers in the game, this is not something the Swiss can bank on happening tomorrow. All things being equal, Murray will undoubtedly win the vast majority of backhand-to-backhand rallies.
Instead, Federer might look to open up his down-the-line forehand. Unfortunately, this would require the World No. 3 to regularly take his backhand up the line, a shot that he has often struggled with in the past.
The book on Murray is that he will generally play his forehand cross-court, particularly when not given time to measure his shot. This not only goes to the Swiss’ strength, but it also exposes an oftentimes fatal technical flaw in the Scot’s game: Murray has the prototypical counter-puncher’s forehand.
What this essentially means is that he has the perfect forehand for passing shots. It is heavy, with lots of top-spin. It is designed to make his opponent volley from their shoelaces.
Unfortunately for Murray, this fact means that he has to work harder in order to hit with length on the forehand side, which opens up Federer’s down-the-line forehand, and oftentimes on short balls. The Swiss regularly employs this pattern of play to great effect, approaching the net for a little additional security.
It is worth laboring on that last point, given that Federer may make some adjustments at the net. Murray’s tendency is to hit the cross-court pass almost exclusively, on either side. The Swiss should gamble and give the Scot the line, particularly on big points. This will likely pay dividends in pressure moments, when Murray reverts to doing what comes naturally.
What tactics should the World No. 4 employ to counter the above?
The answer to that question is perhaps self-explanatory: do the opposite of what is expected. Of course, this is all easier said than done.
The first thing to note is that the Murray forehand is not in the same league as Djokovic’s. Unlike the Serb, he cannot expect to involve himself in forehand exchanges and come out on top.
Rather, Murray should guide his forehand down the line at all costs, only occasionally mixing things up to keep Federer honest. He should do this even at the risk of erring when he is under pressure.
To counter Federer’s imposing presence at the net, the Scot should seek to keep him honest. Murray needn’t abandon the cross-court pass, but rather he must plant the seeds of doubt in his opponent’s mind.
One tactic that has perhaps been overlooked by Murray in the past is his use of the slice to the Federer backhand. One reason for this is that it is a risky shot to employ. As is the case with Rafa, the slice gives Federer time to run around his backhand and dictate with the forehand.
However, if Murray is accurate with the slice it will produce errors from the Swiss’ top spin backhand, as it is not a shot that lends itself to dealing with low balls. Federer has the option of engaging in slice exchanges should this occur, but his tendency is to avoid more passive rallies.
Even with all of the above in mind, who can really anticipate what will happen tomorrow? Whether either player incorporates any of the above remains to be seen. The best we can hope for is a great final, one that is more competitive than their previous Major encounters.