The masterful Federer rarely looked troubled against the No. 4 seed and reigning U.S. Open champion, utilizing strong service games and aggressive net play to advance in three hours and 20 minutes.
The Brit wasn't terrible in the opening two sets despite being outplayed, and he deserved to take the match into a fourth set after growing as the match progressed. However, Federer looked like his vintage self, showing the poise and command that saw him ranked the best player in the world as recently as October 2012.
Murray entered the match with the slight advantage in head-to-head matches over Federer, but most neutral fans would have likely expected to see more of a contest. It was the first time they had faced each other with Murray the higher-ranked player, but this distinction proved meaningless as Federer came out on top.
Re-cap. Andy Murray leads H2H 11-9 overall. Roger Federer leads 3-1 in majors. Murray won in five here last year. But you just never know.— Alexandra Willis (@alex_willis) January 22, 2014
The No. 4 seed entered the match having dropped just one set on his journey to the quarterfinals. He beat Japan's Go Soeda, Vincent Millot of France and No. 26 seed Feliciano Lopez in straight sets over the first three rounds before overcoming Stephane Robert, 6-1, 6-2, 6-7, 6-2, in the fourth round.
It maybe came as no surprise that Murray had few issues making it through to the second week of the tournament considering he only faced one player inside the top 100 before Wednesday's encounter with Federer.
Federer's journey to the quarterfinals proved to be a little easier despite the more difficult draw that came with being seeded sixth. He defeated Australian 21-year-old James Duckworth in the first round and Blaz Kavcic in the second. Teymuraz Gabashvili provided little resistance in the third round, and Federer made relatively light work against No. 10 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the round of 16.
As with the extremely efficient but somewhat underwhelming spectacle that was Federer's encounter with Tsonga, so was the win over Murray. It was clinical, but it didn't have the tension or excitement that most expected until Murray clawed his way back into the match almost two-and-a-half hours after play got underway.
Federer's meeting with top seed Rafael Nadal comes after the Spaniard rallied from a set down to beat Grigor Dimitrov in four sets earlier Wednesday evening. Sport Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim seems to think the stars are maybe aligning for the 17-time Grand Slam champion.
"A lot has to go right for Fed to win a Slam"- Djokovic? out. Murray? weeks from back surgery. Nadal? blistered. That's more than a little.— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) January 22, 2014
Just how bad was the blister? Matt Cronin of TennisReporters.net provided the answer.
In the other semifinal, seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych will face No. 8 seed Stan Wawrinka. Berdych defeated No. 3 seed David Ferrer in four sets, while Wawrinka upset three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic in another five-set thriller.
Federer drew first blood in the fourth game of the opening set when Murray sent a backhand long to hand Federer the early break. Playing in his 14th Australian Open, Federer recorded another simple service hold to consolidate the break and give him a stranglehold on the early proceedings.
The Times beat writer Neil Harman summed up how well Federer started:
A quarter of a hour, Federer leads 4-1, has dropped three points on serve, gliding along v nicey. Andy wobbly— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) January 22, 2014
The difference in how the two players started was easy to see. Federer found his service rhythm much quicker, and he made a conscious tactical decision to come into the net behind deep groundstrokes at every opportunity.
According to the official match statistics, Federer served at 76 percent, won 89 percent of points on his first serve and won 13 of 15 points (87 percent) when he came into the net. On the other side, Murray landed his first serve a little more than half the time (55 percent) and won two-thirds of these 12 points. He approached the net just twice, pinned behind the baseline as Federer controlled the majority of the points.
A 23-shot rally got Murray pumped up to start the second set, prompting this tweet from Brad Gilbert who also said during the ESPN commentary that Murray sent two rackets to be restrung at two pounds less tension to give him a little more power.
muzzard needs to be more aggressive especially from the middle of the court and off of 2nd serv returns— Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnation) January 22, 2014
Incidentally, Gilbert also said Federer's new racket is not only eight inches bigger but that it also has a stiffer frame, which helps absorb powerful groundstrokes and booming serves. Federer has been using the new 98-inch Wilson racket since the start of the season.
Federer continued to attack in the second set, taking more balls inside the baseline and transitioning from the back to the court to the net with ease.
At 2-2 on the Murray serve, Federer ripped a shoulder-high one-handed backhand down the line to tie the game at 30-30. Murray started to press too much, first dumping a forehand into the net and then spraying a cross-court forehand into the doubles alley to allow the Swiss to convert his second break point.
BBC Tennis' Russell Fuller tweeted:
Murray had worked his way into the match early in the second set but after 2 forehand errors is a break down again. 2-3— Russell Fuller (@russellcfuller) January 22, 2014
Murray got to deuce on the following Federer service game—he didn't have a break-point chance until Federer served for the match at 5-4 in the third—but that was as close as he came to getting back into the second set. Federer's offense was more efficient than Murray's defense, and even though the Scot didn't necessarily play badly, he never really looked to threaten Federer's supremacy.
Murray lacked his usual conviction on his groundstrokes, and he didn't win enough cheap points on his first serve which, although better than at the start of the match, still didn't play as much of a weapon.
Gilbert said this was not something unique to this match, but rather a Federer trend during the competition.
Fedfan still only broken once in the tourney and only faced 9 break points
— Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnation) January 22, 2014
Murray survived another Federer push to hold serve at 3-5, but the No. 6 seed wrapped up the second set after 48 minutes when Murray just missed threading the needle with a backhand down the line and then misfired from the forehand wing.
The statistics from the second set were pretty even, but two big numbers stood out. Firstly, Federer hit 16 winners to Murray's nine. Secondly, Federer converted his only break point while Murray did not even have a similar attempt. As in the first set, that proved to be the difference.
Just how big was the mountain Murray had to climb?
Fed takes 2nd 6-4, now leads Murray 2 sets to 0. He is 211-2 when winning 1st 2 sets in Slams. What will it take for Murray to come back?— ESPNTennis (@ESPNTennis) January 22, 2014
In the third set it was more of the same as both players held their serves comfortably. While Murray started to change his tactics by coming to the net more, Federer cranked up the pressure. He started to serve and volley, he cut down on the unforced errors on the forehand side and he continued attacking on the backhand.
ESPN showed a very informative graphic highlighting that Federer was taking the backhand much lower and earlier than he did at this tournament last year. The result was that Federer was able to generate more power and maintain his control through the shot with more consistency.
The big breakthrough appeared to come in the ninth game of the third set when Federer broke Murray at 4-4. Serving for the match, Federer fell behind, 15-40, before saving the first break point with an overhead at the net. However, Murray finally secured the break he needed to keep his tournament hopes alive at the very next opportunity when Federer was unable to return a stinging forehand deep into the deuce court.
Serving for the match, Federer broken for the second time all tournament. 5-5. And Murray has woken up….— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) January 22, 2014
Federer regained his composure and held to love to force a tiebreak. It was the ninth breaker between the two players, with Federer coming in having won the past six and seven of the eight.
Federer gained the initiative with an early mini break at 2-2, and he made three running, sliding squash shots on the forehand to withstand the Murray barrage and forge ahead, 4-2. An unreturnable serve out wide after the change of ends increased the advantage to 5-2, and Federer brought up match point when Murray fired a backhand long on a second serve at 5-4.
Murray fought off both match points—the first on Federer's serve, the second on his own—before unleashing a cross-court forehand winner that clipped the outside of the side line, much to the disdain of Federer who unsuccessfully challenged the original decision.
The very next point, Federer hit a forehand from the middle of the baseline long, handing Murray the third set and a renewed sense of hope and self-belief.
Had Federer claimed the tiebreak, it would have marked the first time he had defeated a player ranked inside the top four in straight sets at a Grand Slam since he toppled Murray in the final here in Melbourne four years ago.
Federer squandered six break points in the second game of the fourth set—a near 19-minute game that had 10 deuces—before Murray squirmed out of trouble. It meant that after going 2-for-2 on his first two break points, Federer was just 1-for-11 over the third and fourth sets.
A seventh break point came and went with Murray serving at 2-3, and even though Federer lost the game, he consistently made Murray work hard. Federer started playing with more urgency, and he regained the form he displayed at the start of the match. His returns had more bite, and his second serve won him more points than it lost.
Federer was holding with ease, while Murray seemed to be on the brink each and every time. With the Scot serving second in the set, there was a greater sense of dread every time he seemed to falter. It also seemed to mean more every time he recovered.
It seemed like it was only a matter of time until Federer broke through, and his change came when three successive loose points on the Murray serve gave him a triple break point. Murray saved a pair, but Federer grasped the third. He attacked the serve aggressively, played a fine approach shot and finished the point into the open court after Murray had retrieved a drop shot at the net.
Serving for a place in the semifinals once more, Federer blinked first again. He fell behind, 0-30, but an overhead and kick second serve brought him level. An unreturnable serve gave him his third match point and, as the clocks struck 7 a.m. ET, an emphatic ace out wide sealed the victory after three hours and 20 minutes of exciting tennis inside Rod Laver Arena.
That's Federer's first win over a fellow member of the Big 4 since 2012, having not earned one last year. Roger rested and ready. #AusOpen— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 22, 2014
While Murray will now have to recover and turn his focus to the upcoming Davis Cup tie against John Isner and Team America in San Diego at the end of the month, Federer moves on to his 34th Grand Slam semifinal.
Federer has now made it to the final four in Melbourne 11 years in a row since 2004, and he's one win against a wounded Nadal from competing for his fifth Happy Slam crown.
Follow me on Twitter @MarshallATennis
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