The much awaited second semi-final between Roger Federer and Andy Murray failed to produce inspiring tennis or riveting drama but it did showcase the growing consistency of the Scot in matches that matter. Even as Federer struggled to find his rhythm, Murray played composed tennis to earn his 10th career victory (10-8 over Federer) and reach his third straight finals at the Shanghai Rolex Masters in China. The Scot broke his opponent twice in the first set and once in the second to clinch a clinical 6-4, 6-4 victory over the struggling Swiss world No.1 in an hour and 38 minutes.
It was their third high profile encounter in recent months and Federer started the match as if the ghosts of that bizarrely one sided Olympic finals were still wrapped around his neck. Unable to find a first serve, the Swiss allowed Murray to dictate the pace and steal an early break. Dealing blow for blow, Federer got off to a 0-30 lead in the second game. Murray reeled him back to even terms, but dumped a forehand in the net to offer a break point. The Scot then sent a backhand cross court wide to surrender the break.
Up 40-15 in the next game, Federer squandered three straight points to offer yet another break opportunity to Murray. The Swiss though survived this initial thunder through some big serving to bail himself out and take a 2-1 lead. That turned into a storm that threatened to sink Federer’s hopes when Murray broke serve yet again in the fifth game. And he didn’t really had to do it, since Federer gifted a hat-trick of double faults to offer the break on a platter. The threat was as much Federer’s flailing shots as it was Murray’s power and depth – ten unforced errors midway through the set bore testimony to a worrying trend of fragility.
Federer had expressed his joy at finding a way out on a bad evening when he survived his compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka in the third round. It was quickly looking like he was borrowing some of that emotion, when he survived a difficult service game to force Murray to serve for the set at 5-4. But then, Murray was playing a far more composed brand of tennis and an ace afforded the Scot two set points. He needed just the one, as Federer sent his backhand return long on the next point to end the set – one that was underscored by some unnecessary charity from the seasoned Swiss player.
Even as Federer continued to make heavy weather of the contest, at one stage taking umbrage over a few isolated drops of rain water on the court Murray remained calm and consistent. The decisive game of the match came in the fifth of the second set, with Federer on serve at 2-2. Murray upped the ante with a sudden burst of monster returns that netted the Scot five straight points and a crucial break. All Federer could do was look on in forlorn angst. It was the kind of brutal blow that could end a heavyweight bout.
But with Murray ready to serve for the match at 5-4, the rain showers returned and the umpire finally decided to close the roof. The players trudged back to the locker room even as the packed stadium of Federer fans wondered if the company and wisdom of Paul Annacone could somehow extend the match upon resumption. When the players returned, it was obvious there would be no such drama as the errors continued to flow off the Federer racket. The match ended soon after it resumed when the Swiss found the net with his backhand return to hand Murray a deserving victory that catapulted him into a promising final contest against Novak Djokovic.
Murray was solid on his serve, winning 87% of his first serve points and cranking an impressive 24 winners to dominate Federer in the key moments of the semi-finals. The Scot was also able to get a good read on Federer’s serve nailing 8 return winners, besides being able to control play on the second serves that came too often for Federer. The Swiss had a sluggish match, failing to find his feet as he often arrived either out of position or late to the ball. As a result, not only did he make a bagful of unforced errors – 33 of them compared to just 17 winners – besides being able to earn just a solitary break point through the course of the match.
The finale though promises to be an action packed thriller – Djokovic has been on song this past fortnight, a title in Beijing and a dominant run this week ample evidence of the Serbian’s brilliance. Meanwhile, Murray has made steady progress this week even though he has looked out of sorts earlier in the tournament. The Scot has never lost in this masters-series event and will look to clinch a hat-trick on Sunday. Djokovic though has valuable points to gain as he continues to make that final assault on the ranking honours.