Five thoughts from Andy Murray's rollicking 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-2 win over Roger Federer in the Australian Open semifinals on Friday ...
In five tremendously entertaining and hard-fought sets, Murray beat Federer for the first time in four attempts at a major with an effort that combined exquisite tennis with exquisite composure. He stepped to the baseline and served ace after ace, 21 to Federer's five, winning dozens of quick-and-easy points. He outplayed his opponent from the baseline, unleashing defense that was downright Djokovician, making Federer play extra balls. He volleyed, he sliced, he teed off on returns, he changed pace and, as always, made few tactical mistakes. He kept his poise under the most tense circumstances imaginable (see below).
For the first time all tournament, Murray dropped a set. But, in outlasting Federer in a five-set classic, Murray recorded one of the true signature wins of his career.
"Maybe there's just a little bit more belief, or he's a bit more calm overall," Federer said. "It seems like he has more peace when he plays out there, and in the process he has better results."
Federer's serve wasn't the weapon it usually is, precluding him from winning cheap points. He played too cautiously on Murray's service games. He tried a few ill-advised drop shots. The conditions -- downright chilly and windy at times -- favored the player from Scotland. But, disappointing a result as this was, it doesn't owe to age. He just lost to an exceptional player who played exceptionally well.
At another point of his career, this would have triggered Murray's demise. He would have glowered at his box, berated himself and worn his I-just-ate-vegemite face. Same when Federer scored a break in the fourth set. Same when Murray lost challenge after challenge. Same when Federer had a few choice words for Murray. Same when Murray couldn't serve out the match in the fourth set.
"I've been questioned for large parts of my career about physically would I be strong enough; mentally would I be strong enough; do I listen to my coaches, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah -- whatever it is, can I handle pressure," Murray said.
In 2013? With a major in his catalogue of achievements? There was no negative body language. Murray recovered again and again. He kept pounding the ball and restoring order, imposing his will. Murray's serve was his MVA -- most valuable attribute. But his improved attitude (thanks, coach Ivan Lendl) gets high marks, too.
"I wouldn't say I dominated," Murray said. "I did all the things I needed to do."
"Nothing has changed," Federer said of the Big Four rivalry. "Keep on trading wins and losses."
It's a precipitous drop to the next level. And no matter the combinations and permutations, the Big Four give us storylines and sensational tennis in equal measure. No matter how the plot breaks, it's relevant and interesting and fits into a bigger narrative. Had Federer won on Friday? He gets Djokovic, the current No. 1 and defending champ. Murray wins this match? He gets a rematch against the man he beat in New York, a player born a few days apart.
"The task isn't any easier," Murray said. "This has been [Djokovic's] best court."
Only one player wins these matches. But, with this team of rivals pushing each other and elevating the sport, fans win no matter what.
"Azarenka's Timeout Jeered Round the World" even made the front page of
? Let's just say that the PR team will earn its keep this event. On a lighter note, Azarenka went to her press conference wearing a Nike T-shirt reading "Kiss My Fast," not exactly the uniform most of us would chose were we are trying to project humility and perhaps even remorse. Innumerable stories and video clips about Azarenka -- all unflattering -- now picture her in that Nike shirt. I'm envisioning the Nike rep beforehand saying, "You know, Victoria, now we usually like you to wear our clothes in public? I think that today, a turtleneck would be great. The Adidas one."
? The WTA has been conspicuously quiet here. Neil Harman tweeted: "I'm afraid it underlines once more the sheer lack of strong officials in the sport backed up by weak leadership." I think that pretty much sums it up. Until the grown-ups care a little more about the fans and a little less about making sure their relationship is such that they can cajole them to attend a sponsor party, abuses will occur. Same with grunting. At some point you say, "This is bad for business. If we need to change the rules, so be it."
? You need real weapons to beat the Big Four. You're not going to grind them down.
? I wrote this on Thursday: Li won a lot of fans in the first match. She won a lot more in the second match.
? To quote Li Na: "I am agree."
? Dude, she's won all four majors and dropped nine games in her first five matches. Hardly think the media is to blame here for daring to suggest she was a contender. That said, yes, her draw was soft and, yes, she has lost a number of high-stakes matches lately.
? We did, thanks.