Murray Ends Rafa's Run - Federer Goes for Number Five
September 7, 2008 -- Roger Federer was happy. He had defeated Novak Djokovic 63 57 75 62 and he would play in his fifth consecutive U. S. Open Final. He would defend his title, his court, and his reputation. By advancing, Roger quelled massive media noise that had hammered at him relentlessly this season about either losing it totally, at an extreme, or about a slump due to illness and other inexplicable factors. With his victory on Saturday, before the heavens opened and welcomed Tropical Storm Hanna, Federer demonstrated to the world that he still has a firm grasp on the keys to the kingdom of Grand Slam crowns.
Mary Jo Fernandez asked him immediately following the match, who he would like to play in the final. Federer hesitated, breathing deeply, the fans witnessing a slice of the depth of energy expanded to beat the #3 Serbian seed. Roger settled on Nadal because they had had such great grapples in the past. But, then, in all honestly and with a sly grin, the former #1 player said, "I'd prefer the trophy." Pretty simple stuff from the man everyone expected would sail past Pete Sampras' record 14 Grand Slam titles this year, but, so far, has fallen terribly short.
Roger had 51 winners and 28 unforced errors in this semifinal. He served 20 aces, and one double fault. He won 76% of points on his first serve, and 60% of his points on second serves compared to Djokovic's 45% won on second serves. Pete Sampras' serve was his weapon; however, his second serve anchored his game. It was as key component in his rise to fame, as was Federer's second serve in this match.
The first set was a throw back to matches Federer played in, let's say, 2003. He glided from one corner of the court to another. Federer lived Muhammad Ali's adage, "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." He won 80% of his first service points and an astounding 100% on second service points. The set was over in twenty-five minutes.
Novak Djokovic didn't play badly, though. He had an up-and-down performance spotted with brilliance and a poor disposition toward the audience and toward himself. Down a break in the second set, he refused to go away. He fought to even the set, and broke Federer to win the set and tie the match. With some tennis pundits assured of his ability to send Federer home, this was the moment they had anticipated.
However, it looked as if the contentious aura he had created of himself after his victory over Andy Roddick fueled bad vibes from the audience and, thus, hampered his efficiency and ability to concentrate. After one point, Novak was so discouraged that he turned to the crowd, raised his arms, and dropped his head as if saying the fans had finally gotten in his head so deeply that he was about finished.
That was not the Novak Djokovic who wowed the world time after time with astounding down-the-line drives and a mental game so lock solid he could rectify a losing position with pinpoint serves and strategic brilliance. Instead fans witnessed a young talented player who assumed an arrogant posture with a boy's naive attitude and expectations. When he lost a point he acted insulted. He walked to the other side of the court, got in his ready position, and looked down his nose, literally, at Federer.
In their two-day semifinal, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal fought like warriors. The four-set upset by the Scot will be remembered by the fans who, on Saturday, relocated from Arthur Ashe Stadium during the Federer/Djokovic match to the Louis Armstrong Stadium and took seats with better vantage points. Then they returned on Sunday to Arthur Ashe Stadium for one-and-a-half sets of electrifying tennis.
Before their match, Murray was 0-5 against Nadal. After Murray's loss to the Spaniard at Wimbledon this year, he said he'd never played anyone with so much spin on the ball. However, Murray loves the U. S. Open. It is his favorite Grand Slam, and his best surface. He also won the Junior U. S. Open here in 2004.
Murray's strategic plan in the semifinal, his innate sense of the court, and his masterful timing of the ball lifted his level of play above Rafa's enough to stun the man who has won two Grand Slams and an Olympic Gold Medal, plus numerous other Tier I tournaments, this year. Murray's return of serve was deep and impeccably placed. His groundstrokes were deep, too, which kept the speedy Rafa from approaching the net much of the time. Nadal, the consummate defensive player, faced an even foxier defensive player as if their roles had been reversed.
After one point in the fourth set, a long long rally which Andy eventually won, Rafa bent over his racquet and gasped for air -- his chest heaving. It was the first time, or close to it, that anyone had seen the Spaniard, known for his physical and mental fitness, slowed to near-complete exhaustion. The sight of a worn Rafa must have seemed strange to fans witnessing this fiery match.
The fourth set held all the essential elements of a great tennis match. The second game was over 15 minutes long. Nadal displayed the tenacity of a pit bull, saving seven break points. He then went on to break Murray in the very next game, at love. The crowd roared, anticipating a fifth set where Rafael Nadal would probably prevail and, then, another Federer vs. Nadal championship. But, the Scot broke back spurred on by sheer will and the promise of his first Grand Slam appearance. It has been seventy-two years since a British man has won a Grand Slam.
Andy Murray broke the fast tiring Rafael Nadal to win the match 62 76 46 64. Murray told the crowd that he was relieved to come through and that "the atmosphere in here is unbelievable." Andy looks forward to his championship match with Roger Federer. "To get a chance to play him tomorrow in a slam final is a great honor."
It was an honor today, too, for everyone concerned to watch Andy Murray's fluid game and determination.