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Andy Murray Shows Aggression, Reaches Australian Open Final

Andrew Seah |
January 25, 2013 | 8:16 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

Murray will face Djokovic early Sunday morning to decide the Australian Open champion. (Carine06/Wikimedia Commons)
Murray will face Djokovic early Sunday morning to decide the Australian Open champion. (Carine06/Wikimedia Commons)
Andy Murray is not physically imposing. He is an engaged partner in the baseline dance, but rarely assumes the role of assertive leader. His serve is more than serviceable in general, astounding on occasion, but never considered a lethal weapon. 

Last night, against his long-time dance partner Roger Federer, the Scot dispelled those notions with searing ruthlessness. In an emotional, hard-fought semifinal in front of a capacity crowd of 15,000 at Rod Laver Arena, 25-year-old Murray emerged victorious with a 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 win over the world No. 2. In the process, he brandished a supremely confident game that would have been impossible a year ago, but now, entirely plausible. Such is the recent, consistent brilliance of Murray that his most ardent critics - myself included - have turned begrudging advocates. 

Save a few vintage Murray-isms - animated gesticulations, annoyed facial expressions - Murray seemed composed, in control, and even serene. There was a pep in his step. Grueling baseline exchanges - always a certainty in his matches - were peppered with blazing forehands hit a verve and intensity that we rarely see from world No. 3. 

He set a tone from the onset, imposing his will on rallies in such surprising fashion that Federer should be forgiven if he was initially in a state of shock. His sublime service game contributed to the double whammy, assaulting the Swiss with its fearsome, unexpected power. When Murray eventually captured the first set, he did it by dominating Federer in all facets of the game. It was a rare sight that, in all honesty, has become not so uncommon following his successes at the Olympics and the U.S. Open; the past six months of tennis have been unequivocally Murray's. 

He served harder, ran faster, and thoroughly outplayed Federer who, up until the semifinals, played arguably the best tennis of the tournament. Federer recovered admirably, and traded sets with the Scot until the decisive fifth and final set. The match was fascinating; a mental tug-of-war in which neither man yielded an inch, but the Scotsman had his fingerprints all over it. 

Typically, as with their past encounters, it was Federer who had an easier time during service games, but Murray was playing at such a level that Federer was often struggling to keep pace. The fact that both of Federer's sets came in the form of a tiebreak is indicative of how well Murray served throughout the match; Murray not only dished out 21 aces to Federer's paltry five, but also recorded a superior average first-serve speed. Murray also broke Federer six times and generated 16 break-point opportunities - more than three times the six produced by Federer.   

It was not merely the level of tennis that was amazing; it was the way Murray was playing. Gone were all inhibitions and occasional tentativeness, as the Glasgow-born Murray fired 62 winners to Federer's 43. The winners came hard and fast, from all angles and varieties. Murray's grace and touch with the racket was on full display, with his customary drop shots and inch-perfect lobs. But there were also moments in which Murray overpowered the man from Basel, blistering inside-out forehands and his patented backhand down the line. 

Federer countered beautifully with short angles, many of which placed Murray in compromising positions during their countless baseline exchanges. But Murray retrieved everything, turned defense into offense on a dime, and won the crucial points. He wore down Federer with each forehand, knifed change-of-pace slice backhands that threw him off balance and elicited weak service returns short and into the net. He basically out-Federer-ed Federer.

When Murray sings, it's often a soft melodic hook with smooth cadence and nary a hitch. This was the total opposite. He amplified the sound, broke out the snares, and created chaos. It was as jarring a performance as it was virtuosic. 

What stands between him and an unprecedented follow-up Grand Slam victory is his Serbian friend and foe, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. A year ago, it would be a no-brainer – emphatically Djokovic. This year, my money is firmly with Murray.

What a difference a year makes. 

Reach Staff Writer Andrew Seah here



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