Breaking Down the Federer-Murray Australian Open Semifinal

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Breaking Down the Federer-Murray Australian Open Semifinal
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Its going to be a big night, with much on the line—and that's not only because its the second semifinal match of the first Grand Slam of the year.

Its because facing up against each other are Roger Federer and Andy Murray, the 2nd and 3rd seeds, respectively. Their head-to-head series stands at a tight 10-9 in Murray's favour, although the outcome tonight could well be epochal in the careers of both men.

Andy Murray seeks a third Australian Open final, and a chance to exact revenge on Novak Djokovic, who has halted his progress at this tournament the last two years in the 2011 final and 2012 semifinal. It will no doubt also be a chance to cement the dominance he has at the majors for now. After becoming the 2012 US Open champion, Murray now aims for a second consecutive Grand Slam title.

Also on the line in beating Federer is a shot at the No. 2 ranking. Both Federer and Murray were losing semifinalists last year, and in 2013 something will have to give. A Murray victory will surely fuel discussion of his increasing dominance and Djokovic's overall dominance of men's tennis.

On the other side of the net, Federer hopes, as usual, for another shot at more history.

One wonders if the motivations that drive Murray—the No. 1 ranking, aiming for tennis dominance—are the same with Federer. The 3- year-old, while no slouch, has certainly realised in the last few seasons, and intimated at press conferences on occasion, that enjoying the sport is the highest motivation, above merely being the best.

Still, the thoughts of an 18th grand slam, and a sixth Australian Open final (aiming for his fifth title) will be lurking in his mind. 

What will each man have to do to earn the W? Here are the reasons going for them.

Murray:

Play Aggressively: Murray's biggest threat to Federer is likely to be his second serve return. It sets him up well to dominate the point and put into play some of the more refined offensive strategies he has honed well over the last year—the prototypical match would have been his Shanghai semi victory in 2012 (he won 6-4 6-4). 

Hustle and Defence: An aspect in which Murray perhaps excels Federer is his retrieving ability, which has been able in the past to draw doubts in Federer's mind. Especially crucial will be Murray's forehand passing shot cross court.

Last-time Luck: Murray has beaten Federer twice in three matches since losing at the Wimbledon final, and once at the biggest match of his life—at the Olympic finals, in straight sets of a best-of-five encounter. It is also the last time they played in such a format. The circumstances going into tonight are also similar—Federer coming off a gruelling last round, while Murray has had it easy thus far.

Federer:

Serve Well: Its no secret that Federer's game flows first from his serve and tonight, maybe especially tonight, he will have to serve well. His first serve percentage will need to be in the 70s to allow him to dominate on serve and keep the points as brief as possible.

Forehand: Much of Federer's ability to impose himself on Murray will be determined by the efficiency of his forehand. He will need to attack at all opportunities, stretching if possible Murray to his backhand side. Unforced errors, of course, will need to be kept to a minimum.

Grand Slam Dominance: Murray might have won his last best- of-five match against Federer, but Federer has never dropped a match in their three encounters at Grand Slams—they have all, coincidentally, been in finals. Tonight will be their first semifinal matchup, although it will be on the same court Federer beat Murray on in the 2010 final. 

Advantage?: Federer.

He has past experience to draw from and has been striking the ball beautifully. Murray will not pose the same explosive power as Tsonga, although he may be able to draw enough doubts and pressure Federer sufficiently to earn the win, too.

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