It must have seemed likely that the two Olympic finalists would be favored at the US Open.
Roger Federer and Andy Murray played each other at that particular occasion just a month after the Wimbledon final. The setting was almost identical. They both had the best grass summers, and, whatever the result—Murray would sweep away Federer with perverse ease—either man would be well-placed for a green run in America.
Turn forward the clocks another month, and we find one of them where we had thought he would be—the US Open champion. Perhaps surprisingly, it is not Roger Federer, the five-time champion and recent winner at the Cincinnati Masters (where he dealt Novak Djokovic his first love set in a long time in the final), but Andy Murray, who stands proudly with this title.
It was most surprising, of course, because most pundits had thought that Murray would endure yet another year of grand slam disappointment. His tryst with misfortune dated back to 2008, when he lost in the final at New York to Federer. Since then, Murray had made three other finals, including the most recent one at Wimbledon. He won a combined one set in all those encounters.
Adding his six other losses in the semifinals, Murray had to suffer dismay 10 times in a final four spot before he finally ecked out his first major title. Should he fashion himself a Hall of Fame career in the next few years, it would be without doubt the longest trail to greatness yet.
The road to victory was not smooth, either. The final was a gruelling encounter, and one which he very nearly lost. He had played Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open semifinal this year, and the match followed the same see-sawing pattern. Murray led by two sets, and then lost the lead.
Crucially, it was his fitness that gave him the decisive edge. The fact that he had worked so hard for this moment over these years, made his tears of joy at the end almost too sweet to comprehend.
It had been a tough tournament for him, too. Indeed, the moment when his fortunes and those of Roger Federer's dramatically diverged must have been in the fourth round. Murray had to work hard to get past Feliciano Lopez over three tiebreak sets; Federer had a walkover as Mardy Fish gave up the chase.
In the Roger Federer universe of 2007, it would have been an unnecessary boon, an extra round of rest from utter dominance. It didn't affect him at Wimbledon back then; he came back from a walkover against Tommy Haas to win the tournament.
2012, however, is the year decided by labour and exertion. Federer had worked hard for his Wimbledon title. Berdych, however, came out in the quarterfinals to show him that no lapse could be afforded. Roger had a lapse, and a few more followed in the first two sets.
A couple of hours later, Federer walked off a beaten man, losing in his earliest round since 2003.
Let there be no criticism of Federer. Berdych played a terrific match, and was absolutely deserving of his victory. But this was not Roger Federer's year; it was Murray's.
Lendl, his record of eight straight US Open semifinals safe at last, will have felt vindicated as Murray's coach. Many had thought his appearance in the Scot's camp would dramatically turn things up a notch for him. The truth is that the results had been coming—the titles, not quite.
To play aggressively, to play the kind of tennis that can win grand slam titles, is altogether different from winning them at all. But Murray showed that he found a way in the final to fuse the two together, and that was his effort and achievement alone.
Whether this signals the shifting in power is to be seen. Federer might recover from his disappointment and dominate the rest of the way like he did last year; but for now, until the Australian Open, the grand slam scales are decidedly in Murray's favour.
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