After Roger Federer defeated Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final four weeks ago, he empathized with Murray, who faced immense pressure from the British media and public to win a Grand Slam title. “I could understand what he was going through,” said Federer. “I know. I’ve been there. But I think he’s done so, so well to handle the pressure; so perfectly, to be quite honest. I really do believe he will win a Slam soon.”
Ironically, The Mighty Fed was the victim of the Murray breakthrough. Sure, it wasn’t, strictly speaking, a Grand Slam event, but winning the Olympics gold medal is virtually the same because it’s just as prestigious. Despite the heartbreak of losing his fourth straight major final at Wimbledon, Murray was clearly progressing. His spectacular 7-5 in the fifth set semifinal loss to then No. 1 and eventual champion Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open and even his four-set Wimbledon setback showed he was knocking on the door. But, could he smash it open and knock off two of The Big 3, which is what it would likely take?
Here’s how, in a nutshell, the 25-year-old Scot pulled off “the biggest win of my life.”
- 1. As Federer accurately noted, “He had a clear plan. Andy looked like he was never doubting himself.” Murray bombarded the Swiss’s vulnerable backhand, but also kept Federer on the run with sustained, controlled aggression. He mixed in down-the-line forehands, previously not his forte, and down-the-line backhands that kept Federer off balance and unable to dictate points with his lethal forehand. His strong, deep service return also neutralized Federer’s offense. Although Murray approached net only 12 times, winning 9 points, he attacked short balls with powerful groundstrokes that forced errors and produced many of his 27 winners.
- 2. Murray won almost all of the big points. He fought off all 9 break points, including 6 when serving at 2-0 in the second set in what could have been a momentum-changing game had he lost it. Federer continued to struggle returning serves with his backhand in the ad court after converting only 2 of 13 break points against Juan Martin del Potro in their marathon semifinal. Equally important, Murray converted 5 of 10 break point chances.
- 3. Topnotch passing shots, including a beautiful backhand passer that clinched the first set, kept net-rushing Federer at bay. Federer won only 18 of 33 (55%) of his net approaches. With only aces and 1 service winner, Federer’s offense sputtered because he was getting outplayed from the baseline. No wonder Murray won far more total points, 97-68.
- 4. Unlike Wimbledon, where a “tennis crowd” cheered often for the popular Federer, the Olympics “sports crowd” overwhelmingly and fervently supported their Brit. As Federer said, “His credit for getting in the lead and using the crowd to come through.” Sure, everything went well for Murray from the start, including getting some lucky net cords, but he also showed more positive energy—rather than his habitual dour demeanor—and spectators loved it. And Murray symbiotically fed off their positive vibes.
- 5. The new more mature Murray handled the situation much better than the Murray, who performed abysmally in his first three Grand Slam finals. Ironically, Federer seemed more burdened by the pressure of winning the only prestigious tournament he hadn’t won than Murray was by the pressure of winning his first prestigious tournament. Whether Federer was bothered by a niggling back problem or his age (he turns 31 on August 8th) was finally starting to show, was hard to tell. Most important, though, Murray made Federer play poorly.
- 6. Murray finished strongly. At the start of the do-or-die third set for Federer, NBC analyst John McEnroe said, “I suspect you’ll see Federer become more aggressive and not let Murray dictate.” Federer tried mightily to reverse the momentum, and though his serve was broken in the fifth game, he held serve four times, three times easily. Aside from a weak second serve that Federer blasted to make it 5-4, 15-15 in the final game, Murray finished with a bang. He whacked a 214 kph (133 mph) serve for 30-15 and then banged two aces.
Will Murray now use the momentum and confidence gained from his decisive Olympic Games victories over Djokovic and Federer as a spring board for more major titles? The US Open coming soon on hard courts, his best surface, should provide plenty of answers.
Paul Fein has received more than 30 writing awards and authored three books, Tennis Confidential: Today’s Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies; You Can Quote Me on That: Greatest Tennis Quips, Insights, and Zingers; and Tennis Confidential II: More of Today’s Greatest Players, Matches, and Controversies. Fein is also a USPTA-certified teaching pro and coach with a Pro-1 rating, former director of the Springfield (Mass.) Satellite Tournament, a former top 10-ranked men’s open New England tournament player and No. 1-ranked Super Senior player in New England.