Were you playing the Roger Federer drinking game that Steve Tignor outlined in his recent report from Melbourne? If so, I hope you didn’t skimp on the refreshments. For we saw “vintage” Federer early on, “full-flight” in his puppet-mastery of an off-form Andy Murray for nearly three full sets. Nearly, being the key word.
Like a blast of cold water to the face of someone who’s been overserved, what happened next was jarring. First, Federer failed to serve out a straight-sets win at 5-4; it was Murray’s first chance to break in the entire match. Then, Federer couldn’t convert either of two match points in the subsequent tiebreaker, which he once led 5-2.
To add to Federer’s annoyance, Murray won a game nearly 19 minutes in length to begin the fourth set, one in which the Swiss saw six break points come and go.
It would be enough to drive anyone to drink, and perhaps Federer is getting into some of his Moët & Chandon supply right now. Thankfully for him, it’s in celebration. For before we had the chance to debate where such a loss would fall on the scale of pain, Federer rebounded to beat Murray in four sets, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3.
While Federer’s aggressiveness and overall effectiveness waned from the moment he was broken in the third set, his serving efficiency rarely wavered. His service games were a breeze compared to Murray’s, even in the fourth set, with the momentum having clearly shifted. The load eventually became too heavy for Murray to bear, and he was broken for 5-3—though not before saving two more break points. Federer ended an 0 for 9 fourth-set drought with an aggressive cut at a second serve, eventually leading to the break at net, an area where Federer also excelled. The influence of Stefan Edberg seems unmistakable.
Federer would go on to hold from 0-30 in the following game, capping an unexpectedly dominant showing, the end of the third set notwithstanding. It wasn’t just Federer’s backhand that looked rejuvenated; his defense was impregnable, better than that of Murray, the ultimate counterpuncher. Contrasted with Murray’s subdued start, Federer’s sky-high form led to a mismatch for most of this match, until Aggressive Andy showed up. Give Murray credit for raising the blood pressure of Federer and his fans—Roger remained cool, but you could tell he was relieved in his post-match chat with Jim Courier—and give the 32-year-old credit for finishing what he started.
Patrick McEnroe described the performance as “vintage Federer” after the match—apparently, it was time for a nightcap—and the throwback theme will continue Down Under in the semifinals, which pits Roger against his old rival Rafael Nadal. They’ve played each other 32 times overall, with Nadal leading the series 22-10, and have twice met at the Australian Open, with Rafa winning both times.