Why Wimbledon Needs Andy Murray in the Final

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Why Wimbledon Needs Andy Murray in the Final
(Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

How can this year’s Wimbledon final prove itself a proper follow-up to last year’s?

To put it simply, it can’t. There really isn’t any way we’re going to see the kind of contrast there was last year, with the brute force of Rafael Nadal banging on the castle walls for five sets, and the gallant King Federer manning the ramparts in defense.

It was a match that equaled McEnroe-Borg 1980 in terms of drama, and surpassed it in quality of play. It was too much to expect this year’s final the match that, especially with Nadal unable to play, but we can hope the fall won’t be too precipitous.

And that’s why I’m hoping Andy Murray advances to the final. As a long-time supporter of Andy Roddick, it’s an odd feeling not to be behind him in his semifinal match on Friday, but Murray reaching the final is better for tennis in general.

Roger Federer will face a tough semifinal opponent in Tommy Haas, who has overcome Novak Djokovic and whose beautiful all-court game is well-suited for grass. Since 2003, however, Federer is 66-0 on grass against everyone not named Rafa.

He is an imperious presence by anyone’s standards, especially Roddick’s. The American has won only two matches in 20 against the Swiss, and for very apparent reasons: The Great Swiss eats big servers between meals.

Some players, Andre Agassi comes to mind, were better than Federer at sending reasonably hard deliveries back even faster than they came. Nobody today, though, and possibly nobody ever has been as good at getting huge serves back, and getting them back in awkward positions for the server.

This was apparent when Federer shut down Roddick and Mark Philippoussis back-to-back in the 2003 Wimbledon, losing not a set and denying both men the majority of their usual aces.

Federer’s successive victories over Robin Soderling and Ivo Karlovic—who hadn’t been broken once in his four previous matches at this year’s event—suggests that this skill is sharp right now.

With his serve blunted, the American has no other advantages against the Swiss.

We’ve seen Andy Roddick face Roger Federer in two previous finals in London. To see them again on Sunday would be like watching Muhammad Ali inflict a third beating on Sonny Liston.

Put the British Andy in the final, though, and the dynamic changes completely. Murray’s game is more complete than any player other than Federer, and he has a 6-2 record against the Swiss.

How he has achieved such a record is not quite as obvious as Federer’s mastery over Roddick, though. To understand it, one ought to look at another player who has troubled the five-time Wimbledon champion in the past: David Nalbandian.

Like Nalbandian, Murray hits the ball flat and clean, and his two-handed backhand is even more reliable than his forehand. This leaves Federer without an obvious target, and strokes like Murray’s (and Nalby’s) allow him to feed off an opponent’s pace.

Also like Nalbandian, Murray has a stout return of serve, making it more difficult for Federer to set the pace from the very first ball.

These qualities allowed Nalbandian to race out to a 5-1 head-to-head lead against Federer before he reached No. 1. Federer now leads that series 10-8, but the Argentine’s three wins since 2005 represent more success against the Swiss than anyone else has enjoyed, save Nadal, Murray and Djokovic.

Furthermore, Murray has some qualities than Nalbandian did not, namely a very big first serve and a commitment to fitness. Also, Murray’s probing mind has long excelled at finding ways of making his opponent play the way they don’t want to.

None of this is to suggest that Murray deserves to be the favorite should they meet in the final. Federer is still Federer, the most spectacular tennis artist we’ve ever witnessed, and Murray has never faced him on grass.

Also, the only time they have played in a major was in last year’s U.S. Open final, which the Swiss won in straight sets.

Still, imagine a Sunday final in which the soon-to-be father seeks to set the new Grand Slam record, just nine years after Pete Sampras established the previous mark here.

Now, imagine that the only man in his way is someone who has beaten him four straight times, is seeking to end Britain’s 73-year drought at tennis’ grandest stage, and has the backing of 10,000 British on Mount Murray.

It may not be the Nadal-Federer sequel we’d hoped for, but it’s the best possibility left.

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