I’ve a confession to make: I’m watching the Federer-Murray semifinal for the third time today. Why? Well, for one, it was a bloody good match. For two, I can’t get enough of the way Andy Murray played.
Not just because he beat Federer, mind — though that’s certainly cause for celebration. Before today Andy Murray had never defeated Roger Federer in a grand slam. Before today Roger Federer had never played two five-setters back to back, either. The wear and tear from his epic quarterfinal vs. Tsonga was evident in Federer’s movement and energy today, but that didn’t stop this semifinal from being an instant classic with plenty of full-on tennis — and full-on guts, as well.
I’m talking about Roger Federer, the swan king ballet maestro of men’s tennis. This is not a guy who gets through matches with dogged determination. Most of the time he doesn’t have to, because he’s just that good. But today, Murray out-aced, out-hit, and out-ran an opponent who couldn’t find his usual game. Federer’s response? To will himself through a five-set firefight with sheer bloody-mindedness.
It was not Federer’s best display. It wasn’t even close. But today Federer showed us four hours of a different kind of genius than what we’re normally treated to, and it was beautiful in its own right.
So I’m totally on board with the Fed fans who say this was a good loss, as far as losses go. And as far as wins go, this was a fantastic win for Murray. Not just for the fact of winning, because let’s face it, Federer had no business even stretching that match to 5 sets, and I say this with the utmost respect and admiration. Andy Murray should have had this match in the bag. But the fact of Federer’s resistance, that bloody-minded genius, is what made this semifinal a victory to me. Because for all that he grimaced and yelled and grabbed at random body parts, not once during this match did I get the sense that Andy Murray had lost faith in himself.
Murray lost two tiebreaks to take the match in five. His career record against Federer in tiebreaks is now 7-1, and that stat doesn’t lie. Murray out-tennis’d Federer for three blistering sets, but in the 2nd and the 4th, Federer demonstrated exactly why he’s a 17-time grand slam champion. 17 grand slams aren’t won by genius alone; 17 grand slams demand the fortitude of heart and mind to go with it. When it came down to the knife-edge confidence test of a tiebreak, Federer won with a fearlessness that was frankly awesome to behold.
But you know what? Losing those sets didn’t shake Andy Murray. Not this time. And therein lies the lesson, because as a certain Disney movie once taught us, champions are made not by the strength of their body but by the strength of their heart.
Today, Andy Murray demonstrated the whipcord toughness of his competitor’s soul.
He’s not unshakable. He may never be. He may always be that guy who mutters at himself during changeovers and yells at himself when he misses a shot he thinks he should have made. And that’s fine. He wears his heart on his sleeve, like he always has. He vents his frustrations, but now he doesn’t let it control him. He’s calmer. He’s grown. He can see past the frustration and the moment, and that settles him in a way like never before. Like bicycle wheels in motion, steady because they are not standing still. With Lendl’s guidance, Murray is finally learning to live with himself and the impossible monster of his tennis — and he’s learning to make it work.
Federer was not at his best, tennis-wise, but by god was Andy Murray. This semifinal was one of the best — if not THE best — match I have ever seen him play. Murray’s serve was as clutch as clutch ever gets. He crafted the points. He went for his shots. He hit more forehand winners than Roger freakin’ Federer, and that stat alone is mildly flabbergasting.
This was an unbelievably competitive match. It took a sub-par but divinely gutsy Federer, and a relentless Andy Murray playing some of his best and most aggressive counterpunching tennis. When you think about it, that speaks volumes of just how great a player Roger Federer truly is. And if you think about what it takes to face down that kind of genius — well, then maybe you can understand just why I’m so unbearably proud to be a Murray fan today.