Andy Murray is playing some of his best tennis in the late stages of the Australian Open.
Murray was relentless in his 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 victory and showcased a dominant return against a player whose serve has been a powerful weapon in the past. Opening up a 4-0 lead, Murray demonstrated a killer instinct that has sometimes been lacking in his performances, never allowing Chardy to find rhythm.
Federer, on the other hand, has been made to work very hard for his place in the tournament.
Facing a higher quality of opponent can work either way for a player making a run at a Grand Slam title, and Federer has certainly had to deal with that.
Overcoming Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in five sets, the Swiss master fought off a strong comeback from the Frenchman—including a funny moment when Tsonga mock-threatened him—to set up his fourth meeting with Murray in a Grand Slam.
Federer has won three out of the last four meetings, but has also noticed the improvement in Murray’s returns. When speaking to BBC.co.uk, Federer outlined the Scot’s development nicely:
That's what matters the most for him now —in the moment itself, how offensive can you play when the ball is coming flat and hard into the middle?
Who will meet Novak Djokovic in the final?
You have to know also when to back off. He's very clever at all these things. He knows how it works. But I think it's especially on the return that you see the biggest significant change in his game overall if you look back now.
Murray now picks his shots as well as anyone in the game. Where he would previously snatch at an opportunity, he now puts it away. Where he would previously try to make something out of nothing, he now waits for the play to develop and waits to make his move.
According to The Independent, no player in the Open era has ever followed up their maiden Grand Slam with another in the next tournament, but Murray cannot allow history to weigh him down.
The fact that he is yet to drop a set works in his favour, despite the lack of court time compared to Federer. He goes into the game fresher than his opponent, stronger and playing the best tennis of the tournament.
Federer has made his way through the rounds, but Murray has crushed his side of the draw. The aggression has been balanced with composure, and his absolute refusal to let opponents settle has resulted in some convincing victories.
His forehand is the steadier shot, but his placement of the ball keeps up the pressure. Murray has previously played his best tennis when forced to get out of a defensive situation, but he now looks to be aggressive earlier, keeping the points short in the Australian heat and retaining his energy.
He certainly won’t crush Federer in the same way as his previous rounds, but Murray’s all-round game has been positively affected by his improved returns.
The fact that Federer has noticed it means Murray has another weapon—one that now gives him the edge as he makes his bid for the final, and another meeting with Novak Djokovic.