At 6-5 in the second set of his quarterfinal against Andy Murray on Friday night, Roger Federer hit a return, charged the net, and put away a forehand volley to make the score 30-30. He punctuated the winning play, which left him two points from the match, with a little skip to the side. Fans of a certain age may have been reminded of another player who used to do something similar after a successful volley: Stefan Edberg.
It was an appropriate, if likely unconscious, homage to his coach. Federer earned his 6-3, 7-5 quarterfinal win over Murray largely at the net. He was 17 of 27 there; the latter number represented nearly a fifth of the total points played. That’s not exactly an Edbergian number, but it’s not bad for a guy who has always played largely from the baseline. Federer’s volleying was hardly perfect—he struggled with sitters especially—but what mattered, in the long run, was that he kept coming in anyway.
At Wimbledon this year, Federer said that being a true net-rusher isn’t just about winning points up there; it’s about also being willing to lose them. As he relies on his net game more, he’s getting closer to meeting his own definition. From the start, Federer tried to jump on Murray’s traditionally weak second serve. If aggressive play didn’t always win him the point, it kept him in control of the rallies through the first set. Federer squandered six break points in Murray’s opening service game, yet still broke him twice.
It appeared that a change had come with Murray serving down 0-1 in the second. At game point, he showed his first hint of retaliatory aggression, moving quickly around to carve an inside-out forehand winner. The Murray attack kept coming, as he broke Federer twice to go up 4-1; a third set was all but underway.
But Murray, who gave away a big lead to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Toronto last week, proceeded to give this one away as well. He looked indecisive, particularly compared with Federer’s single-minded strategy. Down break point, Murray served and volleyed, backtracked to the baseline, and finally lost the point with a wild error. Serving again at 4-3, Murray looked befuddled, overhitting a backhand pass badly and sending a forehand way past the baseline to lose the game. Murray’s final service game, at 5-6, summed the day up. Federer won two well-constructed points at the net, before Murray ended it with a tentative forehand into the tape.
Murray moves on to the U.S. Open on a low note, having lost three of his last four service games. Federer evens his career record against Murray at 11-11 and will play his fourth straight semifinal. There he’ll meet the man he beat in the Wimbledon semis last month, Milos Raonic. That one went his way as well.