Wimbledon 2015 Men's Semifinals: Federer vs. Murray Preview and Prediction

Jeremy Eckstein@https://twitter.com/#!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistJuly 8, 2015

Wimbledon 2015 Men's Semifinals: Federer vs. Murray Preview and Prediction

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    The script called for Roger Federer and Andy Murray to clash in the 2015 Wimbledon semifinals, and here we are after the two superstars plowed through their assignments in what turned out to be a mere formality.

    There's the eternal champion Federer, honing his beautiful game on grass behind his latest concoction of cerebral net aggression. He is the ultimate adapter and thinker, and now he is two matches away from an eighth Wimbledon title and 18th major.

    Murray has ever been the feisty little brother to Federer's success, winning more of their nondescript encounters but needing a big win here at Wimbledon to put him on the threshold of his third major title in three years. He is a master of spreading his groundstrokes to both corners of the court, and he has the will to win.

    This is what the world has waited for, the blockbuster between two legendary champions who have spun out nearly a decade of competitive twists and turns in their rivalry.

Who Has the Historical Edge?

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    Because Federer vs. Murray has been greatly overshadowed by the three-way rivalries that include Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, few might be aware of the unusual twists and turns it has taken.

    Currently, Federer leads 12-11 through their 23 matches, but there have been different phases:

    1. Murray bolted ahead taking six of their first eight career meetings through Indian Wells 2009. It’s interesting because those early years (2006-2009) were a lot of Federer’s prime tennis. Murray’s groundstrokes could clearly stay with and bother Federer. One important note is that Federer won their only major clash easily, sweeping the 2008 U.S. Open final.
    2. Federer took four of the next six matches from 2009 Cincinnati through London’s 2010 World Tour final. This included the 2010 Australian Open final (another straight-sets victory) and two year-end clashes at London.
    3. They did not play each other at all in 2011, and then Murray entered his best period under Coach Ivan Lendl. They split six matches, but Federer won the biggest title, major No. 17 at 2012 Wimbledon. Murray’s highlights were winning the Olympics gold medal a few weeks after losing Wimbledon, and Murray defeated Federer at a major for the only time in his career by taking a five-set semifinal at the 2013 Australian Open.
    4. Trailing 9-11 in the head-to-head meetings, Federer won all three matches against Murray in 2014. Federer had entered his partnership with coach Stefan Edberg and he was employing a more aggressive attack at the net. Murray was languishing through recovery from losing Lendl and recovering from back surgery. He was ousted in four sets at the 2014 Australian Open and embarrassed by a 6-0, 6-1 score to end 2014 at London.

    So we get a new test in 2015. Federer is peaking under coach Edberg and he gets his favorite tournament and surface, Wimbledon grass. Murray has found his way back to the top three. He's improved with occasional aggression in moving forward, and he just earned his best career success on clay under coach Amelie Mauresmo.

    The important historical edge goes to Federer, but it might be the most competitive, underrated rivalry of the 21st century.

Murray at 2015 Wimbledon

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    Murray has been better leading up to the Wimbledon semifinals than he was in 2013. Then, he had to overcome a quarterfinals two-sets deficit to Fernando Verdasco. The past week-and-a-half have seen him control all of his matches, losing only one throwaway set to Andreas Seppi in the third round and losing a tiebreaker to Ivo Karlovic.

    The most impressive part of his run has been his margin of winners to unforced errors:

    1. First round vs. Mikhail Kukushkin, 30-17
    2. Second round vs. Robin Haase, 25-11
    3. Third round vs. Andreas Seppi, 32-26
    4. Fourth round vs. Ivo Karlovic, 62-9
    5. Quarterfinal vs. Vasek Pospisil, 23-13

    Adding this up, Murray has 172 winners and 76 unforced errors. This is an impressive 69.4 percent of winners when adding up his winners and unforced errors.

    This will be the area that Murray needs to win against Federer. Both players will get some easy points on their serves, but Murray must be efficient from the backcourt and force Federer to more erratic play. Watch this statistic as they play.

Federer at 2015 Wimbledon

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    Federer has been as smooth as Swiss chocolate. He dropped only one third-set tiebreaker to Sam Groth in the third round, and he looks every bit as fit and energetic to win Wimbledon. His match times have been only 1:08, 1:26, 2:16, 1:26 and 1:35.

    Federer has also been extraordinary with his winners to unforced errors counts. His serve and net play has concocted much of this, but the key to short matches has been his utter efficiency:

    1. First round vs. Damir Dzumhur, 26-12
    2. Second round vs. Sam Querrey, 32-10
    3. Third round vs. Sam Groth, 56-8
    4. Fourth round vs. Roberto Bautista Agut, 38-12
    5. Quarterfinal vs. Gilles Simon, 36-22

    Federer's totals for the tournament are 188 winners and only 64 unforced errors. That's nearly a 3-1 ratio (74.6 percent winners).

    Something has to give between Federer and Murray. Which player will impose his style in order to create winners? Federer must do this as quickly as possible, meaning short points and fewer long rallies against the more comfortable backboard style of Murray.

The Biggest X-Factors

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    Crowd Support

    This could be very interesting. Murray has always been enthusiastically cheered at Wimbledon, with his nation behind him. Federer is the worldwide favorite, used to winning the crowd support wherever he goes.

    At Wimbledon, Federer will prepare himself to battle against the applause of Murray's supporters, but Murray might not like it when Federer gets a lion's share of the support, and perhaps even more, if he falls behind. It could be very interesting to hear the crowd go back and forth late in a tight match. It could matter, but both players can lock in and play regardless.

    Nerves

    At the 2015 Australian Open, Murray looked to be in control of the third set against Novak Djokovic. Then he unraveled. It was a fairly ugly meltdown and loss of composure, with Murray citing his irritation after the match that Djokovic somehow recovered like Superman after cramping up. He implied gamesmanship from Djokovic, who pulled away and won the championship. Murray will need better control of himself with the tension at Centre Court as high as ever against an aging champion he wants to beat.

    Federer has occasionally shown nerves and fatigue in majors the past few years. While a lot of this can be attributed to his body needing more recovery and stamina over the course of trying to win seven best-of-three matches in two weeks, it's fair to point out that Federer's lapses in concentration are part of the problem. For instance, his 2014 loss to Ernests Gulbis in the French Open was a case of throwing away what should have been a two-sets advantage. He got careless and paid the price.

    Crowd support could also be a factor in how the players deal with their nerves. Will Murray feel the weight of external expectations? Will Federer buckle under the moments of internal pressure? They can both get irritated by little moments, but for the most part, expect them to be cool and professional.

Murray Will Win Wimbledon Semifinal If...

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    Of course Murray wants to create a ground war from the baseline. At this point in their careers, he is more consistent and content to keep tracking down shots and making Federer play extra balls. He knows that Federer does not have quite the forehand threat he once had from anywhere on the court. Long rallies likely mean more errors from Federer than Murray.

    Another category that Murray must win is at least 45 percent of his second serves. He does not want to get in a funk with his first serve and allow Federer to seize quick advantages on the return. If he can keep Federer back with a strong serving game he should be in great position.

    Murray does need to be efficient with his passing shots in the first set. If so, Federer has a tendency to back away from his game plan and settle in too much at the baseline. This usually happens when Federer is facing his biggest rivals, respecting their groundstrokes. Murray must place at least some doubt in Federer's head, so that Federer won't boldly traipse to  the net at will and turn into Pat Rafter. (Although Rafter never did win Wimbledon. OK mate, let's change that last example to Pat Cash.)

    If he controls the baseline, backs up his second serve and hits good passing shots, he will win in three or four sets.

Federer Will Win Wimbledon Semifinal If...

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    Federer needs a fast start, backed by excellent serve-and-volley moments and control of the net. If he wins a lot of easy points early, he will confidently control the match behind his service game and be patient for the break-point chances against Murray's serve.

    It's mostly about imposing his offensive aggression. If he is efficient, he wins. If he finds himself shanking errors during long rallies, it will sap his resolve.

    Another key is Federer's timing of when he will block back serves or go for more of an advantage at the expense of staying in the point. So much of Federer's recent success has been his computer-like brain to know when to move in or take a chance and when to set up another opportunity.

    Federer should have enough energy and will to play four hours if needed. He is rested and ready, and his A-game will win the day.

Prediction

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    Many of you know that I tagged Federer to be the favorite at Wimbledon. He has ripped through five opponents with the ideal level of efficiency and play, better than he was in 2012 and placing himself in perfect position for his eighth title at the All England Club.

    While Murray is fully capable of defeating Federer, I think Federer is at a higher level on grass right now and that he has the match in his hands. He’s also playing with the confidence to know that he should win. If he executes his game plan, he wins. To credit Murray, it may not be so easy to do this against Murray, and we’re not going to see something like the WTF blowout last November when Federer fed Murray a bagel and a breadstick.

    Finally, Federer does not like to lose to Murray. He’s had the superior career, obviously, but he’s usually trailed their head-to-head count, and Federer would like to put him away late in his career.

    Federer is also ready to shed some of his own problems in winning the final weekend at majors since Wimbledon 2012. He understands his opportunity and will be as prepared as ever.

    I’m picking Federer to win in four hard-fought sets and to set up a chance at Wimbledon final redemption for his narrow five-set loss to Novak Djokovic a year ago.