Roger Federer and Andy Murray meet in a Grand Slam since their memorable Wimbledon final last summer. Since then, they have met three times with Murray winning in the Olympic final and in Shanghai, while Federer won their encounter at the year end championships in London. These meetings take the overall H2H to 10-9 in favour of the Brit.
Surprisingly given his usual early struggles, Andy Murray is the only player in the draw that is yet to drop a set. While his detractors may point to the fact that he has had a straightforward draw, it is important that his energy reserves will be almost full. The only seeded player that he has beaten on route to this stage was the hobbled Gilles Simon.
Roger Federer made light of a relatively tough draw until his quarter-final, where he ran into an in-form Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The Frenchman made him fight all the way, although Tsonga showed plenty of mental fragility in the final set that almost gifted the match to Federer.
Despite his good form earlier in the tournament, the 17-time Grand Slam winner was relatively poor against Tsonga. While his serve was solid for the most part, he was broken four times – often through careless errors. His 77% of points won behind his first serve was encouraging and follows up his figures through the tournament – he is third on the list of points won on first set, behind Philipp Kohlschreiber and Richard Gasquet.
One problem that he has had during the tournament has been converting break points. Against Tsonga, he created 18 break point opportunities, but only took 4 of them. Over the course of the tournament, he has converted just 20 of the 66 break point opportunities that he has created – well below his average. The positive would be that he is at least creating the chances. However, against a player of the quality of Murray, he will need to be more clinical.
The other worry will be the forehand. While the Federer backhand remains one of the best shots in the game, it is possible for the forehand to be targeted. Against Tsonga, he hit 29 unforced errors off the forehand wing, as opposed to just 10 off the backhand. In the past, Nadal has successfully broken down the Federer forehand, and it will be an area that Andy Murray will look to target.
It is difficult to really judge where Andy Murray’s game is right now, given the lack of any form of realistic challenge that he has faced to reach this stage. His performance against Jeremy Chardy was probably the most accomplished of the tournament so far.
He will have been happy with the 80% of points that he won behind his first serve, particularly when he was getting almost 70% of his first serves into play. However, the second serve statistics will worry him slightly – he was able to win just 29% of points behind his second serve.
32 winners and just 20 unforced errors against Chardy were around the level that Murray would have been hoping for. The fact that 18 of those winners came off the forehand wing will have been particularly pleasing, given that is an area that Murray has often been overly conservative on in the past.
Looking back at past meetings, it is clear how important the first serve will be. Almost every time that Murray’s 1st serves in percentage is over 50%, he has beaten Federer. On the occasions that he has dropped below this mark, he has lost. In every match so far in the tournament, Murray has been above the 58% mark, and even reached 74% against Robin Haase in the first round.
If he serves well, Murray should find plenty of cheap points on his first serve. He will then be able to get at the Federer serve. As well as he served in the first few rounds, there were periods where his serve deserted him against Tsonga, and Murray will look to pounce on these lapses if they occur again. Despite playing fewer sets, Andy Murray has broken more times than any other player in the tournament, and is winning a higher percentage of return points than any other player. Some of this can be attributed to the easy run, but it still shows that he is causing problems. He is also converting 58% of the break points that he is creating.
The key for both players will be protecting their serve, particularly the second serve. Last time they played on an outdoor hard court in Shanghai, Murray was able to create no fewer than 11 break points to Federer’s 3. Against a returner of the quality of Murray, you cannot afford to give up these numbers. Federer also had a problem with double faults, perhaps as a result of trying to put too much on the second serve, wary of the calibre of Murray’s returning.
In that Shanghai meeting, Murray really feasted on the Federer second serve, winning 64% of points against it. He was stepping inside the court and hitting with power off the return, taking command of the rallies. If Federer misses too many first serves here, expect to see a similar theme.
Murray will look to target the Federer forehand and draw the errors. Federer in turn must look to take the attack to Murray. The Brit will fancy his chances of winning enough of the rallies if it comes to it. However, if Federer serves well, he will be able to take a few chances on the Murray serve.
The truth is that Andy Murray leads the H2H on outdoor hard courts 7-4. He is also a better player now than he was for the majority of those meetings. In my view, he is the favourite and will strongly fancy his chances of reaching a third successive Grand Slam final.
Prediction: Andy Murray to win in four sets