There shouldn’t be anything surprising about a Roger Federer-Andy Murray quarterfinal at a major event. But in the context of the last 12 months, this meeting at the 2014 Australian Open is particularly noteworthy. As is Federer’s upper hand in this match.
Both players have posted impressive numbers heading into their quarterfinal match and as it frequently does with the top players, the 21st meeting between Federer and Murray will likely come down to the small details.
Seeded fourth, Murray has had a straightforward route to the quarterfinals, dropping only one set in his fourth-round match against Stephane Robert. Federer, the sixth seed (still a jarring number), has had a comparably impressive run, winning 12 straight sets, in which he was forced to a tiebreaker in only one.
What gives Federer the edge in this match against Murray is his performance in the fourth round, where Federer came up against a very tough opponent in Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Murray has yet to face a similar test.
Putting too much stock in one match can be dangerous, but Federer’s win over Tsonga was in many ways momentous.
At this point in his career, this matchup was in no way a straightforward encounter for Federer, who lost to Tsonga in straight sets in their last meeting at the 2013 French Open and only took out the Frenchman in five sets at this event last year.
Haiku: Federer, extravagant, beats Tsonga in straight sets. Plot Thickens.— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) January 20, 2014
Not only did Federer take out Tsonga in Monday night’s match, but he did so in the dominant fashion that is becoming less common from the 32-year-old. It’s hard to remember the last time Federer put on such a performance: 43 winners, 21 unforced errors, 34/41 at the net.
“That last stat was downright prehistoric,” TENNIS.com’s Steve Tignor wrote after the match. “Like a flashback to his first Wimbledon title in 2003, when he served and volleyed his way through much of the fortnight.”
As talented as Tsonga is, Murray is another caliber of player. But with his win over Tsonga, Federer will have the psychological momentum going into the quarterfinals.
While Murray has showed few signs of weakness, the Brit did have trouble closing out Robert in his previous match, who forced a fourth set after Murray failed to serve it out at 5-4 in the third set.
Federer’s fourth-round win may not have been an upset on paper or the kind of huge win he needs to elevate himself back into the top tier of men’s tennis. But it’s made that conversation seem less far-fetched and Wednesday’s matchup against Murray more intriguing.