There’s no Djokovic and no Nadal on the final Sunday at Wimbledon. This is almost as bizarre as having n Federer or no Nadal in a final prior to 2010.
Which is what makes this final pairing all the more romantic.
SW19 has one brand new finalist- a kid that has been Britain’s only hope after semi-Tim Henman. Andy Murray was in grave danger of following in his predecessor’s footsteps, consistently making the semi-finals at Wimbledon for 3 years in a row. A loss to Roddick was unforgivable in 2009, but his losses to Nadal in 2010 and 2011 made it clear that he would NEVER progress to the final unless the luck of the draw favored him, or Nadal crashed out early. As it happened, this year, Nadal crashed out early, and that spurned Murray on to come through a tough draw.
Beating an error-prone erratic Tsonga in the semi-final, however, could have raised hopes in this nation yet again- making Murray look far better than he played.
Here he is, then, by luck or fate or chance or whatever. His first final at Wimbledon. A first British man in the final since 1938. A first British man looking to win the title since 1936. It was only appropriate that Tendulkar was present to watch this unfold, because he is probably the only athlete who is aware of what it takes to carry the entire burden of a nation on your shoulders, for so so long.
It has been only 7 years for Murray. Only 7 years, where he has failed in 3 Grand Slam finals- and hasn’t even won a set there. Two losses to Federer and one to Djokovic in the final meant that he just can’t beat the top 3 in a Slam.
The last time he played in a Slam final was at the 2011 Australian Open, after a particularly tough 2010 final loss to Federer. He played Djokovic and was mauled once again. After 1.5 years, he finds himself in yet another final- and interestingly, plays the same man he played for his first two finals (2008 US Open Final and 2010 Aus Open final).
Federer, on the other hand, did the unthinkable once again, by beating World No. 1 and machine Djokovic on Friday in the semi-final. He played beautifully, yes, and for once, cut down on his errors. Djokovic didn’t look the same guy who beat Federer less than a month ago at Roland Garros. Maybe he knew Federer had a date with Destiny, at his favorite slam, on his favorite surface- a place where he belongs.
Age is just a number
Federer has now never lost a Wimbledon semi-final (8 out of 8). He has lost a Wimbledon Final just once. He is the first man to reach 8 Wimbledon finals. He is the first man to reach 24 Grand Slam Finals. Every game he plays now, will be a new record of some sort. He is in that stage of his career, where numbers begin to supersede quality of play.
It has been 2.5 years since he last won a Slam- against who else but Murray in 2010. This could be Federer’s final sign-off, his last chance to go back to the top of the rankings and break Sampras’s record of 286 weeks. But that can’t be on his mind. It won’t. All he wants is another title, that could mean as much to him as his first French Open title in 2009 did.
In a final of a Slam, this could sound like a bit of a mismatch. But Murray is in impressive form, and this could still be his BEST chance of winning an elusive Slam. Federer, still, has his weaknesses at this point in his career, but he has an overall edge over Murray in the big matches.
Here is what Murray needs to do to beat Federer on Sunday-
-Murray needs to have his serve going for him bigtime. He can’t afford to let too many second serves in, because of what Federer did to Djokovic on Friday. Murray’s first serve is a massive weapon on grass.
-Murray needs to be able to read Federer’s first serves as well as Djokovic did on Friday. It is another matter that Djokovic couldn’t read Federer’s second serves. He needs to get as many returns as possible into play, confirming his status as the best returner on grass.
-Murray needs to run around the baseline like he has, all tournament, and make Federer play that extra ball. Errors will come, fast and furious, if Federer sees that he is being denied outright winners.
-Murray needs to step in on Federer’s backhands, and not play far behind the baseline. He needs to use his slice to counter Federer’s lethal slice, and show him that he possesses an equal array of strokes.
-Murray must bring Federer to the net and lob him a couple of times to show him that he can’t dictate points. It is more mental, because it will only result in a few points.
-Murray MUST ride the crowd, and not let them wear him down. The roar will be deafening all across Britain, not only at Center Court, and he must learn to let them push him on break points.
-Murray must stretch (even inconsequential) points out to long rallies from the first game itself. We all know how Federer detests long points, and Murray invariably has the arsenal to irritate Federer into errors- especially with his newly fashioned top-spin backhands, a little too remnant of a Spanish Left-hander.
-Murray must go aggressive on the BIG points. Break point down, he can’t wait for Federer to make a mistake. He must induce that error. Like Djokovic and Nadal do. If he still loses, atleast he can say he tried.
-Murray is good enough. He just needs to believe it himself. And maybe smile a bit, to show that he is enjoying his tennis.
By this time tomorrow, we might have history being made- either way.
Federer in 4 tight sets. Murray’s time will come, as always.