Wow, what a crazy semifinal! After going the distance in the quarters vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Roger Federer found himself in another marathon, this time versus familiar and dangerous nemesis Andy Murray. A few oft-repeated but no less interesting factoids came up during this match: Murray had never beaten Roger in a Major, Roger had never played two five-setters in a row, and Murray and Roger had never played a five setter against one another.
Well, that’s all changed now. Murray, seemingly superior in all stats that mattered (aces, winners, break points, etc.) won the thing: 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-2. As Roger guessed in his pre-match analysis, Murray showed off his newly minted aggression from the very start. If Roger wasn’t surprised by the display, he certainly seemed powerless against it. But – as Peter Bodo put it in his column – Roger showed supreme patience in this match. His nerve and his experience won him the second and fourth sets and gave fans of all stripes a match to remember.
The fourth set really had it all – Roger got and lost an early break then was forced to fend off Murray as the Scot served for the match, displaying some awesome shots and a rare show of pique (I love that word, pique, and it seems such a fitting adjective for a pissed off Roger, no?) to take things to a tiebreaker.
Here’s a peek at the pique:
Yes, that set was a pleasant way for a tennis fan to spend 71 minutes. Unfortunately, at least for Fed fans, the set that followed was the shortest of the four hour long match, with Murray brushing aside a gassed Roger in thirty minutes.
As a Fed fanatic, I was less gutted than expected by this result. Of course I would have liked Roger to have held Murray at bay, especially when it comes to their head-to-head in the Majors (now that powerful Federer psych-out has been overcome.) But the way I see it, Roger had the harder draw and the more grueling road to the semis (no fault to Andy, of course, that he was given Jeremy Chardy in the quarters) and I think most people assumed the new, Major-winning Andy would have his way with old Rog, and in much less time. So I loved watching Roger fight, try to win a bit ugly, and, most important, show absolutely no signs of losing any of his drive, ambition or pride. This wasn’t a passing of the torch, this was a strike of the club. And I think Roger’s looking forward to hitting back. I also felt that as well as Andy played, Roger wasn’t at his best, especially in terms of his service games, and that Roger can actually take some real tactical lessons from this loss (as opposed to some of his more painful failures vs. Nadal, where it was hard to see just what he could do differently.)
And consider Murray’s reward for his troubles: a date with the bionic Novak Djokovic in the final, a guy who needed less than an hour and a half in his semifinal the night before vs. David Ferrer.
“I’m going to be ready for pain,” Andy Murray said after the semifinal. The Scot has a way with few words.
I admit, I’m looking forward to the women’s final of Li Na vs. Victoria Azarenka more than the men’s final. (Battles of attrition aren’t really my thing, and I think that’s what Murray vs. Nole’s going to look like. . .I just don’t have five hours to spare these days.) Li Na is one of the most loveable and laudable players out there, sneaking into the upper echelon a couple seasons ago and proving with this effort that she plans to stay there. She’s been in the Australian Open final before, and wouldn’t it be nice if she could win it now? Her semifinal victory over a seemingly unstoppable Maria Sharapova was breathtaking, and now makes her the on-form favorite for the title. Her opponent, World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, comes into the final on a different kind of momentum – a wave of bad vibes. Vika’s ill-conceived ten-minute long injury timeout and self-admitted “choke” at the climax of her semifinal vs. bright-eyed Sloane Stephens was just the latest PR unfriendly move by this tetchy player, and it garnered her enough flack that she called a press conference to “clear the air.” (This is a woman who usually disdains the press – a well-known reporter once muttered to me during one of her pressers: “Worst interview in the top 10.”)
“It was a big misunderstanding.” Azarenka explained to reporters yesterday, “It was bad timing, it was probably my fault as I said before and I would never do something against or towards the other player, especially somebody like Sloane.” Interesting that Azarenka and Sloane share an agent. . Anyway, love her or love to hate her, I think we can all agree that she’s a great opponent and foil for the charming, media-darling Li Na. These ladies are going to bring it!