Andy Murray has defeated Roger Federer 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 in their semifinal encounter of the 2013 Australian Open Championship to set up a meeting with world No. 1 and tournament favorite, Novak Djokovic, in the final.
Federer's ability to take the match to five sets in four hours will certainly stave off any obituary columns that proclaim his decline into irrelevance at the business end of the big tournaments. However, the performance will not make for good viewing for himself or his fans.
150 minutes into the match, Federer had had just one break point and had scored just four aces. Compared to Federer's tournament average of 65 percent, Murray had saved 100 percent of the break points he'd faced.
Strange, especially given that Federer was supposed to be a step up in class.
Even more worrying is the fact that in his last two matches against top players he's won more sets through tiebreaks than by the traditional two games.
In a match much like the World Tour Finals deciding matchup against Djokovic, there never seemed a moment where Federer ever seemed in control of his game or his destiny, let alone the match. His best moments in the game came due to two sloppy plays from Murray.
The first came in the second-set tiebreak when a squash shot that Federer knew little to nothing about went an inch higher than the center of rising Murray's racket, resulting in a tame overhead that Federer put away to win the second set.
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The second came in the fourth set when Murray, 6-5, 30-15 up, and needing two more points to win the match, was subject to two service returns from Federer not unlike the reckless service returns that Federer railed at Djokovic for after losing to the Serb in the 2011 U.S. Open.
In some ways, this match was a character study of sorts.
Murray's growth as a player has seen him become an increasingly calm, more studied and deliberate player—very much like the player we expected Ivan Lendl to make him into.
While Federer is acting his age, in match after match, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Federer is finding it difficult to accept that he cannot compete with the levels of physicality that the likes of Murray and Djokovic bring to the table. In this match, his exasperation at his inability to play as he used to was evident on the court.
Swipes at the referee, angry impatience at the crowd, and one unusual incident after losing a point where he began speaking to Murray—perhaps in a bid to psych out the Scot—were all signs that Federer knew he was well off the pace.
Djokovic awaits in the final, well rested and surely enjoying the benefits of an extra day's rest.
However, the Australian Open has often shown itself to be a place where advantage is not as apparent. In 2009, Rafael Nadal beat Federer in the final after a five-hour semifinal. In 2012, Djokovic emulated Nadal to beat Nadal in six-plus hours.
Who's to say it will be any different this year?
At the start of the tournament, Murray was my pick for the title. And after this match, his first win over Federer in a slam final, I am even more resolute in my belief.
*Correction: The article previously stated that Andy Murray was averaging 36 percent more points won on the baseline than in his five previous matches in the tournament. It was, however, Federer who at one point in the match was averaging 36 percent less points won on the baseline than in his five previous matches in the tournament.