November 23, 2010 -- Usually those quickie pre-match interviews divulge nothing. A reporter sticks a mic in a player's face moments before he walks on court, asks a couple inane questions and gets pat responses. But Roger Federer revealed a testy edge to his normally diplomatic answers today. And he carried it like a torch throughout his thumping of Andy Murray at London's O2 Arena.
From his brusque tone listeners could detect that Federer wasn't about to play nice. He wanted the win. He needed the win to puff up his pride, too, which had been deflated the last two times Murray and Federer met: in the finals of Roger's Cup and the finals of the Shanghai Masters this year.
"I have a plan," he told the reporter, when asked what he would do.
"What is it?" the reporter queried.
"I'm not going to tell you," Federer snapped.
The reporter probably wanted to run and hide. Luckily the chat ended as quickly as Federer rattled off his annoyed response.
Murray has been the dominant one in their head-to-head record. He was 8-5 before his loss today. But he also lost to Federer in the finals of The Australia Open in January, a much bigger feather for any tennis player's hat. And that feather was Federer's 16th major title.
So why did the British press pick Murray to win? Out of loyalty? Hope? National pride?
Sports commentator Peter Fleming, of the brilliant doubles team of John McEnroe and Peter Fleming, calmly rationalized that Federer had lately "missed opportunities on match point." Fleming sounded so certain, as he sat on the Sky Sports TV set alongside Greg Rusedski another retired tennis star relocated to Great Britain.
Rusedski agreed with Fleming. Those match points were certainly a foreshadowing of doom and gloom for the four-time titleholder at the ATP Championships. There seemed to be no reason to doubt these two men. Their posture, manners and confident tones, although they lacked any hint of enthusiasm, should have put Murray fans quite at ease. Have a seat, relax, and in a couple hours or less we'll bring in 'the British number one,' as they called Murray.
The camera then cut to Rusedski. He and buddy Pat Cash were hitting on a side court. They were miked up. More predictions were on their way.
Greg again promised that because of the low bounce, Murray's use of slice and his big serve that he would pull through.
Cash, on the other side of the net, disagreed. Somebody had to do it!
The Aussie cited Federer's ability to create angles off both wings, his renewed hunger, and his approaches. "He will dominate," Cash predicted.
And dominate he did.
Federer broke Murray at love in the third game and won the next service game at love ending it with an aggressive drive right down the center of the court about two inches over Murray's head. Lucky for him he ducked.
Federer lost only one point on serve, during the first four games of the match. He stood inside the baseline or just behind it, acutely aware and ready. Tactically he took Murray out of his own rhythm, which was clever - as Pat Cash later pointed out - because as most players know Roger Federer loves rhythm. Therefore for Federer to undermine Murray by removing Federer's foundation - rhythm - took guts and a high level of confidence.
Federer had to be prepared to lose out if the tactic failed. But it didn't. He hit over- and under-spin, changed the pace, flattened the ball, and moved it around. Basically Federer used the whole court and every tool in his over-stuffed chest of goodies to wobble Murray to his knees.
Murray tried to be aggressive in the face of Federer's plan. As the Swiss went to close out the first set, Murray had his chances to draw even. It didn't work. He pulled the trigger too early in rallies, which was Federer's former answer to Murray: trying too hard and technically off.
Federer won 64 62. He knew he had to come out and make something different happen. "I wasn't up to him tactically," the Swiss admitted in an interview prior to the beginning of these ATP Championships.
Still without a coach, and still unsure of his own game, Andy Murray has some re-thinking to do. His strategy selection was inadequate today and his execution sub-par. Yes, we all know he should be aggressive. But knowing and doing... you know the rest.
Murray finished the last two years ranked #4 and would like to remain there at the end of 2010. Time will tell. Robin Soderling took over the #4 spot last week, but only 20 ranking points separate them. With Soderling's win today over David Ferrer, Murray will definitely chase a victory on Thursday against the Swede.
A journalist from Sky Sports caught up with Judy Murray, Andy's mom and confidant, before the match. Mrs. Murray admitted that watching her son play was 'unbelievably stressful.' She also said that for Andy to play Roger at the year-ending championships was a great privilege because Roger was the greatest player of all time.
You have to wonder if Andy will see that clip.