Wizards of Oz (XII): Previewing Murray vs. Federer and the Women’s Doubles Final

Only one of these men can get some hardware on Sunday.

Read about what to expect from the marquee match in the second men’s semifinal and the intriguing clash of storylines in the women’s doubles final.

Murray vs. Federer:  Preparing for their 20th career meeting, these two familiar foes have battled nearly neck and neck through their first nineteen with Murray holding a slim 10-9 edge.  Perhaps more relevant, however, is the advantage that Federer claims at majors, where he has won three finals from the Scot for the loss of one total set.  On the other hand, one could argue that this trend derives from Murray’s initial futility in major finals, where the pressure of snapping Great Britain’s drought unnerved him repeatedly until his breakthrough last fall.  Among the key turning points that spurred him to that US Open title was his victory over Federer in the gold-medal match at the Olympics, attributable in part to the Swiss star’s fatigue but still a vital confidence surge for Murray.

Claiming his revenge over his Olympics nemesis at the year-end championships in November, Federer recaptured the momentum in their rivalry on a relatively fast surface that suits his game better than Murray’s style.  Still a natural counterpuncher despite his improved aggression, the US Open champion may find the faster court on Rod Laver Arena a disadvantage in this matchup with a man who prefers to shorten the points and force the issue.  (Less consequential, one suspects, is the somewhat contrived issue of his night matches, or lack of them, which he addressed by practicing on Hisense in the evening.)  But Murray encountered no difficulty on the faster outer courts here while winning all of his first five matches in straight sets.  He enters this semifinal fully rested, essential to execute his grinding game plan of wearing down Federer.  He also enters this semifinal largely untested by an opponent worthy of his steel and will need to adjust quickly to the steep spike upward in competitive quality across the net.

Handed a much more challenging draw than Murray, Federer needed five sets to thwart an inspired challenge from Tsonga that forced him to unleash his full array of artistry.  Before then, the formidable serves of twin giants Tomic and Raonic could not trouble the Swiss, who held serve relentlessly until the Frenchman cracked him four times in the quarterfinals.  Likely to lose at least a few service games to Murray, an outstanding returner, Federer will need to convert more of his own break points.  An anemic 4 for 18 against Tsonga, he let several opportunities slip away early in sets that would have eased his progress.  While they did not cost him in that match or in those that preceded it, when he also struggled in that category, Federer cannot offer Murray additional lives and expect to escape.

Another question of note concerns his backhand, which has looked sharp this tournament but has not always shone when tested by the Scot’s superior two-hander.  If Federer can dominate on serve and step inside the baseline to finish points, his groundstroke consistency may not matter.  And Murray has looked uneasy for much of the fortnight with his timing from the baseline as well as his serve, under threat more often than one would expect from his outclassed opponents so far.  All the same, this battle for the right to challenge the defending champion promises greater suspense than Djokovic’s demolition of Ferrer.

Errani/Vinci vs. Barty/Dellacqua:  Champions at Roland Garros and the US Open last year, the Italians who long have dazzled in Fed Cup duty ended 2012 as the best doubles duo in the WTA.  Errani and Vinci also reached the final here last year, falling to Kuznetsova and Zvonareva in a minor upset, so they will aim to reverse that result.  Littered with obstacles, their route so far has required all of their teamwork, ingenuity, and veteran experience to survive.  After they came within three points of defeat against Hsieh and Peng in the quarterfinals, the Italians trailed Venus and Serena by a set and a break in the semifinals.  One would think that deficit insurmountable, but Errani and Vinci pounced on a late second-set lull to turn around the match despite their disadvantage in overall power.

Their lengthy annals of experience together offer them a crucial edge over the Australian hopes of Barty and Dellacqua, who surely stunned even their most ardent fans by reaching this final without losing a set.  Defeating Schiavone and her partner in their opener, the Aussies delivered their most significant upset over third seeds Kirilenko and Raymond.  Nor have Barty and Dellacqua looked back from there as they plowed through a section of the draw riddled with upsets.  For the 16-year-old novice and the injury-troubled lefty, Friday presents a golden opportunity to earn the most significant accomplishment of their careers so far, a great leap forward for Barty in particular.  For the Australian fans, meanwhile, the chance to support their players in doubles after most of their singles threats exited early should not go unnoticed.