Australian Open

Roger Federer Will Continue to Make History

Roger Federer: 17-time Grand Slam champion, 6-time Year-End Championships winner, 21-time ATP Masters 1000 champion (he holds the record amount of titles alongside Spaniard, Rafael Nadal), Olympic silver medalist and Olympic gold medalist in the doubles with compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka. Overall, he has won 76 career singles titles in total, but why am I collating a list of his outstanding career achievements? Well, it is because Roger Federer made it to the semifinals of a Grand Slam and for many tennis players that would be a dream come true, for Federer’s critics, it’s simply not good enough.

World No.2, Roger Federer, was bundled out of the semifinals of the Australian Open by eventual finalist Andy Murray after 5 gruelling sets against the world No.3, not too dissimilar to his Australian Open achievements last year.

At the start of 2012 after Federer lost to Rafael Nadal in four sets during the semifinals of the first Grand Slam of the year, some began to question his future in tennis and if it would be the beginning of his career decline due to his age, after starting a family and having other players emerging and dominating in the major tournaments.

Last year in Rotterdam during the press conferences I heard the former world No.1 being questioned about his career and possible retirement (he went on to win the title in Rotterdam), whether he would ever win another Slam again (Wimbledon 2012 anybody?) and if he believed he would regain his place at the top of the rankings again (on July 16th 2012 he tied Pete Sampras’ record of 286 weeks at No.1 after taking back the top spot once more). Prior to these achievements, Roger Federer had been written off in the minds of some people, but in 2013, write him off at your own peril.

After his 2012 semifinal Australian Open defeat, Federer went on to win consecutive titles in Rotterdam (where he defeated Del Potro), Dubai (where he beat Murray) and Indian Wells (once again beating the then-ranked No. 9 Del Potro, No. 2 Nadal and No. 11 Isner, all in straight sets).

His success continued back in Europe where he was successful in the final against Tomas Berdych on the controversial blue clay in Madrid and won a record 5th Cincinnati title against world No.1 Novak Djokovic. His victories continued on his beloved grass courts of Wimbledon where he was crowned champion for the seventh time against Andy Murray and two weeks later he was avenged by the Brit in the final of the Olympics where he was awarded the Olympic silver medal.

His 2012 season did not end too badly either with back-to-back final appearances in hometown Basel and at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the 02 Arena in London.

There is no doubt that current world No.1 Novak Djokovic and world No.3 Andy Murray are a formidable force on the tennis court and the ‘Novandy’ battles could serve up a rivalry lasting several more years, but whilst Roger Federer is around, he still has the ability to beat the top players – after all he is still one of them. If Federer remains healthy, he may go on to win another major, let’s remember what he achieved last year. Could 2013 be a bit of history repeating? For many Federer fans, they are hoping so and they never give up on their hero.

Ahead of the Australian Open, Federer had not played a tournament going into the first Grand Slam of the year and by his own admission, he was pleased to reach the semis with very little match practice prior to the tournament:

“So I go from here with a good feeling for the year. I didn’t play a tournament leading in, so now obviously I know where my level is at.”

Murray may have knocked Federer out of the semifinals, but has that knocked his confidence or willingness to improve? Of course not…

“I have even more time to work on my game, work on my fitness this year. It’s something I’m excited about.”

With Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray frequently taking centre stage in Grand Slam finals and with the imminent return of Rafael Nadal after his lengthy injury battle with his knee, domination is something which Roger Federer will have to fight for, but he is a sportsman and losing is a learning experience that teaches you to work harder.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion is often referred to as arguably one of the greatest of all time (GOAT) players and as long as the Swiss maestro has the desire to continue playing, he will endure fighting amongst the greatest for more Grand Slam glory and to continue making history. For this reason I would not write him off for future success, after all, he is Roger Federer.

Memories of Melbourne: Grading the Australian Open (WTA)

After the close of a fortnight at once surprising and unsurprising, we review the notable figures in the WTA field at the Australian Open.  Grading influenced by expectations, quality of competition, and other factors in addition to raw results.

Azarenka:  The first woman in over three decades to win her second major by defending her first, she consolidated her position as world #1 in the rankings and public enemy #1 in the eyes of many.  What the media and general public may refuse to acknowledge is that Azarenka showed fortitude in regrouping from the controversy swirling around her semifinal—and from a miserable start to the final—to halt an extremely talented opponent on a torrid streak with virtually everyone in the arena cheering lustily against her.  Her competitive desire rivals anyone on the Tour, and that attribute forms a key component of her success at elite tournaments notwithstanding her tendency to carry it too far at times.  Like her or not, Azarenka is here to stay with a game perfectly suited to the moderately paced hard court’s that have become the dominant surface and a determination to win at any price.  She probably will spend most of her career as a polarizing figure, but she appears to thrive on the hostility around her and relish the challenge of overcoming it.  When the dust settled, moreover, her tears at the end suggested that she may have matured during the emotionally fraught fortnight after all.  A

Li:  Endearing herself to audiences around the world, Li smiled even when she twisted her ankle for the second time in the final and slammed the back of her head into the court.  She smiled even as an Australian Open final slipped away from her for the second time after she had come within two games of her second major title.  The best player here for most of the tournament, Li trumpeted her return to relevance by defeating consecutive top-four opponents Radwanska and Sharapova in straight sets.  Not until after her first ankle injury, in fact, did she even lose a set here.  When all of the components of her game click together, any opponent other than Serena will struggle to overcome someone with no apparent weakness.  Much of the credit probably goes to coach Carlos Rodriguez for providing the discipline that she had lacked, but her ability to battle through injury after injury illustrated her inner steel.  And, unlike the equally fierce competitor across the net in the final, she mingled that steel with the grace and warmth that emerged from that smile.  A+

Sharapova:  Continuing a trend that has defined many of her performances at the Australian Open, she mowed down several overmatched opponents to march deep into the draw, only to get mowed down herself late in the second week.  We learned nothing new about Sharapova this tournament, instead receiving reminders that she can demolish or be demolished on any given day without warning.  That said, her lack of match preparation did not appear to cost her, and her loss to Li hinged much more upon the Chinese star’s excellence than her own fallibility.  Some threw excessive-celebration flags on Sharapova for her victory over an aging Venus, which unjustly obscured that transcendent performance in a nearly flawless stretch that set multiple Australian Open records for dominance.  Her post-tournament ranking of #3 feels exactly right.  B+

Serena:  As with Sharapova, we learned nothing new about Serena.  She continues to carve up the WTA like a cantaloupe when she is healthy and hungry, but she cannot overcome injuries as impressively as she once could.  One cannot doubt that she would have finished off Stephens if not for her second injury of the tournament, and it is difficult to imagine the struggling serve of Azarenka or even the streaking Li stopping her after then.  Depending on how her ankle recovers, though, Serena should regain the #1 ranking soon.  Incomplete

Stephens:  Putting aside the fact that she benefited from Serena’s injury, this tournament marked a decisive breakthrough for Stephens.  Many players have lost to an injured Serena before, and it appeared that she would when she choked away a second-set lead and later trailed by a break in the third.  Despite her competitive rawness, she managed to regroup in both instances and settle herself to record a career-defining win.  Also satisfying was her convincing victory over fellow phenom Robson, and she should take Azarenka’s dubious medical timeouts as a compliment, illustrating how worried her resilience in the second set had made the world #1.  A

Radwanska:  Now just 1-6 in major quarterfinals (0-4 here), with her only victory a three-setter over Kirilenko, she did little to refute her reputation as a player who struggles to translate her success to the places that matter most.  Radwanska entered the tournament having won consecutive titles in Auckland and Sydney, so she had not even dropped a set this year until she ran into the Li Na buzzsaw.  She had chances to win that first set and turn around the momentum in the second, but once again she could find no answer to an opponent capable of outhitting her consistently without imploding at key moments.  It’s still difficult to see Radwanska winning a major unless the draw falls just right.  B

Makarova:  As a clever wit noted on Twitter, she excels in places that end in –bourne.  Winning Eastbourne as a qualifier once, Makarova reached her second straight quarterfinal in Melbourne by upsetting world #5 Kerber.  Her defense and lefty angles created a scintillating combination to watch, perhaps honed by her doubles expertise.  Once she fell behind early against Sharapova, she let too much negativity seep into her body language, but that match seemed unwinnable anyway.  B+

Kuznetsova:  One of three Russian women to reach the quarterfinals, this two-time major champion has revived her career in impressive fashion.  Kuznetsova finally strung together a series of confidence-boosting victories at a prestigious tournament, displaying poise late in a tight third-setter against Wozniacki just when she might have crumbled in years past.  Her sparkling athleticism set her apart from many of the more programmatic women at the top of the WTA.  B+

Kerber:  Similar to her performances at the preparatory tournaments, her Melbourne result was unremarkable in either a positive or negative sense.  She fell before the quarterfinals for the third straight hard-court major since reaching the 2011 US Open semifinals, still looking tired from her busy season in 2012.  That post-tournament ranking of #6 seems inflated—until you look at the women directly behind her.  B-

WTA #7-9:  This trio won two total matches at the Australian Open, finding a variety of ways to collapse.  Last year’s quarterfinalist Errani could not hold serve against fellow clay specialist Suarez Navarro in an ominous sign for a year in which she must defend large quantities of points.  Last year’s semifinalist Kvitova could not finish off Laura Robson amid a horrific cascade of double faults and groundstrokes dispatched to places unknown.  Her confidence even more tattered than her game, the former Wimbledon champion nears a pivotal crossroads.  At least one expected home hope Stosur to shatter Aussie dreams as painfully as possible, which she accomplished by twice failing to serve out a match against Zheng before dumping a second serve into the middle of the net down match point.  F

Wozniacki:  Many, including me, thought that she would fall to Lisicki in the first round.  Let off the hook when the German self-destructed yet again, Wozniacki capitalized on her second life to win two more matches.  Then the poise that she displayed at her best late in close matches deserted her as she fell two points short of closing out Kuznetsova.  (As colleague David Kane has noted, that match posed a striking counterpoint to her earlier matches against the Russian.)  Out of the top 10 after the tournament, Wozniacki continues to stagnate without much sign of recovery.  C+

Pavlyuchenkova:  Like fellow Brisbane runner-up Dimitrov, she crashed out of the tournament in the first round.  What happens in Brisbane stays in Brisbane, or does it?  Pavlyuchenkova has much to prove after a disastrous 2012 but plenty of talent with which to prove it.  C

WTA young guns:  From Stephens and Keys to Robson and Watson to Gavrilova and Putintseva, rising stars from around the world asserted themselves in Melbourne.  The future looks bright with a variety of personalities and playing styles maturing in our midst.  A

Kvitova vs. Robson:  Hideous for the first two sets, it grew into the greatest WTA drama of the tournament not stoked by Azarenka.  The question of whether the budding teenager could oust the major champion hovered through game after game that mixed the sublime with the absurd.  It was hard to applaud, and equally hard to look away even as it careened deep into the Melbourne night.  B

Errani/Vinci vs. Williams/Williams:  Two of the greatest legends in the history of the sport faced the top doubles team, en route to their third title in the last four majors.  After three sets and over two and a half hours, the Italians survived two American attempts to serve for the match and struck a blow for the value of doubles as more than a format for singles stars to hone their skills.  This match also marked a rare occasion when David felled Goliath in a WTA dominated by the latter.  A-

Women’s final:  Seemingly everything imaginable happened in this profoundly gripping, profoundly weird climax to the tournament:  fireworks, a concussion test, 16 service breaks, and a starker good vs. evil narrative than most Hollywood movies.  As the service breaks suggested, the quality of tennis fluctuated dramatically from one point to the next with both women struggling to find their best form at the same time.  Meanwhile, the dramatic tension soared to Shakespearean levels as the WTA produced its third straight three-set major final.  A

Enjoy this tournament review?  Come back tomorrow for the ATP edition.

Live Blog: Australian Open Men’s Final, Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray

Follow our live blog on the Australian Open men’s final, updated at each changeover.  Will Djokovic complete the first three-peat of the Open era here, or will Murray become the first man to win his second major title in the next major after his first?

Djokovic 2-1*:  Although Murray wins the first point with an impressive forehand, Djokovic sweeps the next four behind some solid first serves that leave him in control of the points at the outset.  A handful of groundstroke errors from the Serb provides the Scot with a love hold as the match starts uneventfully.  At 15-15 in the third game, Djokovic correctly judges that a Murray lob will float long, which it does by a less than comfortable margin.  Still looking a bit casual, perhaps almost too relaxed after his long semifinal, Djokovic cruises to another hold.

Djokovic 3-2*:  Murray finds a cleaner rhythm on his first serve and holds at love again, this time punctuated with an ace.  Although he starts with a 30-0 lead, Djokovic finds himself pegged back to 30-30 with two routine errors.  A crushing inside-out forehand and a nonchalant miss on a drive volley move a game to deuce for the first time.  From there, a brave net approach draws an error from Murray on the pass, and then Djokovic delivers his own scintillating backhand pass down the line off a drop volley that looked out of his reach.

Djokovic 4-3*:  His normally trusty backhand spraying a few early errors, Murray soon faces the first two break points of the match.  A sturdy first serve and a penetrating cross-court forehand do just enough work to avert them.  He then saves a third break point that Djokovic had created by carefully massaging the rally, and a fourth break point escapes on an uncharacteristic backhand error from the Serb.  Two points later, Murray escapes the game with a first serve down the center stripe.  With that potential momentum swelling his sails, he wins the first point of his return game.  But a stunning recovery from Djokovic after a sprawl behind the baseline allows him to rip off a backhand down the line that wins the point anyway.  The quick hold leaves him within range of the first set without having faced any serious pressure.

Djokovic 5-4*:  After some passive groundstrokes, Murray falls behind break point on a cross-court backhand that narrowly misses the edge of the sideline.  Able to save the fifth break point on his serve, he unleashes a first serve and a bold drive volley that takes away vital time from Djokovic’s defense.  Two points and another drive volley later, he stays even in the set.  Although Djokovic loses two points in his next service game, he closes out the game with a confident ace that forces Murray to hold for his survival in the set.

Djokovic 6-5*:  Starting to improve his first-serve percentage, the Scot holds routinely after some court-stretching rallies.  That game departed from the script of their final here two years ago, when a Djokovic break at this stage opened the floodgates for his routine triumph.  Djokovic continues to hold  as well, opening the court with crisp, flat angles that thrust his opponent off balance.  He did not face a break point in this set.

Murray 7-6:  After 15-15, which they reached by trading netted groundstrokes, the Serb unleashes a massive cross-court backhand to set up a comfortable approach and move within two points of the first set.  A pair of backhand errors from Djokovic let Murray off the hook, and a strong first serve clinches the hold.  Neither man dropped serve in this set, although Murray faced greater pressure during it.  A double fault starts the tiebreak ominously for Djokovic, and Murray battles to win the next rally several times over before finally finding the winner.  With a wild forehand, the Serb falls behind 0-3, and Murray soon leads by a double minibreak at the changeover.  Disinterested in the proceedings, Djokovic tosses away the rest of the tiebreak in a deflating finish to a tense set.

Murray 7-6 2-1*:  Holding at love, Murray ranges all over the court to retrieve everything that Djokovic flings at him  before drawing errors in a series of long rallies.  The streak of points reaches eight for Murray, and seventeen of the last nineteen, as he reaches triple break point on the top seed’s serve.   Djokovic recovers to save all three, suddenly transitioning back into offense.  Capitalizing on that miniature surge, he starts to open his shoulders more freely on his groundstrokes and dodges what might have looked like a formidable deficit.  After a massive return for an outright winner, Djokovic reaches 30-30 on the Murray serve following a strangely sprayed backhand wide that his opponent mistimed.  But Murray records the 15th straight hold of the match.

Murray 7-6 3-2*:  Consecutive aces help Djokovic pull ahead to 40-15, only to see a fine return by the Scot and a careless error pull the game back to deuce.  Murray again fails to exploit the opening, though, and allows his opponent to stay hopeful in this set.  The front-runner then delivers an ace of his own to start and another to finish a strong hold.

Murray 7-6 4-3*:  A sluggish start to the next game from Murray offers an easy hold to his opponent.  And a diffident return game from Djokovic allows Murray to do the same.

Murray 7-6 5-4*:  After the Scot challenges on a close volley near the baseline and receives the bad news from Hawkeye, Djokovic fires down first serves that allow him to take command of the rally immediately.  Charging to 40-0 with pinpoint groundstrokes highlighted by a backhand down the line, Murray skirts a double fault to hold serve without a tremor.  He will attempt to break for a two-set lead.

Murray 7-6 6-5*:  Punished for an overly meek approach, Djokovic watches a Murray forehand pass sail by him on the first point of this crucial game.  Two points later, a bold smash from deep on the court for a clean winner puts the Serb ahead.  He closes out the hold with sturdy baseline play but cannot subject Murray to much pressure as the Scot closes out a second straight set without a loss of serve.

Sets even 7-6 6-7(3-7):  Although a double fault temporarily opens the door for the Scot at 30-30, Djokovic closes out a second straight set full of holds with punishing forehands, a well-angled smash, and a cross-court backhand for a clean winner.  The two men then trade overpowering first serves on the first two points of the tiebreak.  After Djokovic had double-faulted away the first point of the first-set tiebreak, Murray double-faults away the first minibreak of this tiebreak.  A forehand error from the Scot leads him trailing 2-4 at the change of ends, and a service winner soon deepens his arrears.  Responding with a forehand error of his own, Djokovic permits Murray to stay within range. Another draining rally ends with a meekly netted backhand by the Scot, though, and his slice finds the net on the Serb’s first set point to even the match after a pair of lopsided tiebreaks in each of the first two sets.

Djokovic 6-7 7-6 2-1*:  Opening with a commanding service hold, Djokovic strikes two aces and even wins a Hawkeye challenge, a rare event.  Not much more challenging is the next service game from Murray, where the difference in effectiveness between his first and second serves surfaces.  Spreading the court with effective wide serves, Djokovic holds routinely again as his opponent’s forehand starts to falter.

Djokovic 6-7 7-6 3-2*:  A love hold for Murray quickly restores the set to level terms as the Serb struggles to find a way into rallies.  Two routine errors from the third seed late in the defending champion’s next service game remove any threat of pressure on the latter.

Djokovic 6-7 7-6 4-3*:  Considering the holds that flow so easily on both sides, 40-30 seems like a chance for Djokovic, but he lets Murray draw level by failing to corral a wide serve.  A crushing cross-court backhand highlights the defending champion’s next service hold, which ends with a spectacular series of defensive retrievals.

Djokovic 6-7 7-6 6-3:  With a forehand rocket on the first point of the eighth game, the Serb signals his intent to score a crucial break.  He then recovers a drop shot, drawing an odd miss from Murray, and rips two brutal forehands to reach triple break point.  While Murray fends off the first two, aided by his opponent, his forehand finds the net on the third for the first break of the match.  Serving for the set, Djokovic establishes his authority with massive first serves and closes out the set at love.

Djokovic 6-7 7-6 6-3 2*-1:  Down 0-30 on his serve in the first game, Murray desperately needs a hold to start this must-win fourth set positively.  He wins the next three points before floating an inside-out forehand wide to reach deuce.  A lovely backhand stab volley off a potent pass provides him the key to unlock the hold.  In the second point of his next game, Djokovic slaps a careless inside-out forehand into the alley to position Murray with a 0-30 chance, and an error on his forehand down the line presents the first break point on his serve since early in the second set.  Untroubled by the danger, Djokovic thumps down three first serves to hold.  On the second and third points of the next game, Murray cannot track down a blistering backhand return and dumps a double fault into the net.  Running around his backhand to strike an inside-in forehand, Djokovic claims double break point.  Saving the first break point with a service winner, Murray surrenders the second after a long rally with a netted forehand.

Djokovic 6-7 7-6 6-3 4*-1:  A flicker of hope shines upon the Scot when he reaches 30-30 in the next game, extinguished with a tame forehand error and a backhand pushed wearily long.  Serving in a must-hold game, Murray falls behind 0-30 but regroups to win three straight points by exploiting some wayward groundstrokes from the Serb.  Djokovic stretches the game to deuce with a forehand perfectly placed in his opponent’s forehand corner before the third seed again earns a game point.  Pulverizing groundstroke after groundstroke off the baseline, the Serb refuses to relent and returns the score to deuce.  From there, a dazzling series of defensive sprawls and a double fault from Murray leave Djokovic with a stranglehold on the proceedings.

Djokovic 6-7 7-6 6-3 5*-2:  Perhaps a little too comfortable, the Serb donates two quick errors that he erases in part with an imaginatively angled forehand.  The increasingly tired Murray shows little resistance from there.  A rather careless return game from Djokovic, aiming for form rather than function, extends the final through another changeover.

FINAL:  Djokovic 6-7(2) 7-6(3) 6-3 6-2:  With the title on his racket, Murray strikes a pair of elegant passing shots past the top speed as he approaches the net too rashly.  Three points later, Djokovic jerks him from side to side, earning a championship point.  He wastes no time in converting when Murray nets a backhand to hand the Serb his coveted Australian Open three-peat.

Murray will rue the three break points that he squandered in Djokovic’s first service game of the second set, which could have dealt a serious blow to the defending champion’s spirit.  The Serb allowed him only one break point the rest of the way in a sparkling sequence of 21 consecutive holds.  Djokovic has won four of his six major titles at the Australian Open, equaling Agassi and Federer for the most by any man here in the Open era.

Photos: Victoria Azarenka at The Royal Botanic Gardens after Australian Open Win

January 26, 2013 — No sleep for the best. Not even 12 hours after winning the 2013 Australian Open, Victoria Azarenka was front and center at The Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne for the celebratory champions’ photocall.

With the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup in hand, Azarenka looked gorgeous in a flowy white summer dress and sandals. Her killer blowout would make any girl envious!

 

And the Belarusian beauty didn’t disappoint as she popped some more Champagne bottles for a little fun!

Live Blog: Australian Open Women’s Final, Victoria Azarenka vs. Li Na

 

Follow for updates from the women’s final as the match unfolds.  Victoria Azarenka seeks to defend her title and her #1 ranking, but Li Na looks for a third straight victory over a top-four opponent.

Azarenka 1*-0:  Having claimed that she would silence her nerves for her second final here, Li suggests otherwise with a double fault to open the final.  Not nervous herself, Azarenka pounds a series of deep returns that allow her to move inside the baseline early in the rallies.  A pair of routine errors from 30-30 hand the first of what should be many breaks to the defending champion.

Li 2-1*:  When she starts her first service game, Azarenka now looks edgy and quickly returns the break with some tepid errors.  Steadying herself in the next game, Li opens it by winning a long rally with a clean forehand winner, her first of the match.  As expected, she dictates most of the rallies for better or for worse and ends most of them with winners or unforced errors.  With some more solid serving, she earns a valuable hold to reverse the early deficit.

Li 3-2*:  Smartly freezing and wrong-footing Azarenka by redirecting her groundstrokes, Li breaks easily under the weight of her superior power as the top seed looks a trifle sluggish.  Down 30-15 on her next return game, Vika drills a backhand down the line that appears to alleviate some of her simmering frustration.  Two game points spurned, one on a gruesome miss, Li dumps a backhand in the net to keep the set on serve (or on break, if you prefer).

Li 5-2*:  With a massive backhand that cleans the sideline splendidly, Li earns the third straight break after surrendering just one point to Azarenka.  Her return continues to maul the Belarussian’s serve, both first and second.  Azarenka has won just four points in three service games as she still looks for her first hold.  By contrast, Li holds serve at love with a resounding statement that moves her within a game of the first set.

Li 5-4*:  The top seed urgently needed to hold, and she does by finding more first serves before following them with deep penetrating groundstrokes.  Serving for the first set, Li donates a loose sequence of points that leave her pinned at triple break point.  Her groundstrokes narrowly missing their targets, she saves just a single break point before another sloppy error moves the set back on serve, although Azarenka still must hold to draw level.

Li 6-4:  From 30-30, a crushing cross-court return winner off the forehand positions Li at set point, but Azarenka saves it when her opponent’s return sails long.  The two women then trade sizzling forehand winners as the quality of the match improves, Vika’s coming off a sharply angled pass and the Chinese star’s after a point that she set up with groundstrokes off both sidelines.  A second set point vanishes with a fine drop volley from Azarenka, not usually a specialty of hers.  But a third set point arrives when Li catches the Belarussian leaning the wrong direction and punishes her with an inside-out backhand winner, only to squander it with a return error.  The fourth set point falls into her ledger without the need to strike a ball, though, when Azarenka double-faults well long.

Li 6-4 0-3*:  Break #8 arrives immediately when Li’s backhand drifts into the alley in a surprising sign of weakness from a normally steady shot.  Clearly not free of her nerves yet, she contributes more errors in another Azarenka game that reaches deuce and ultimately break point.  Able to save the break point with a service winner, Vika steadies herself to play some of her most impressive tennis so far as she paints both sidelines with both groundstrokes in a Djokovic-like sequence that finally silences the tenacious Li.  The unforced errors flow ever more freely from the Chinese star’s racket, recalling her wayward start to the second set in the 2011 final after she had won the first.  Vika claims an extra break to take control of this set, for now.

Li 6-4 2-3*:  In every service game but one, Azarenka has dropped her serve or faced break point.  That trend continues when a crisp inside-out forehand from Li follows a wayward forehand from Vika to regain part of the deficit.  Ranging along the baseline midway through her next service game, she tumbles onto the court as she appears to sprain her ankle.  Not as gruesomely twisted as some before her, it requires a medical timeout that halts the momentum of the match even further.  When she returns, however, Li unleashes aggressive backhands to hold off the slightly out-of-tune Azarenka.

Li 6-4 3-4*:  Battling to regain the other break, Li moves across the baseline more effortfully but almost as effectively.  She draws an error from Azarenka via a well-timed lob and soon finds herself down triple break point when the defending champion misses a straightforward forehand.  A netted ball on the third appears to drain some of the spirit from her as a merciless Vika digs out of trouble to hold.  Faced with a virtual must-hold, she double-faults consecutively at 15-15 as her movement starts to falter.  Azarenka nets a routine backhand on the second to keep the set tight, and some clean serving from Li allows her to escape the game.

Li 6-4 4-5*:  Bombing a pinpoint backhand return on the first point of the eighth game, Li moves Azarenka off the court by creating a sharp forehand angle.  By netting a drop shot, the defending champion sets up double break point.  When Azarenka sprays a forehand on the second, the set returns to even terms after the top set had led by a double break.  Struggling to capitalize on the momentum shift, Li nets some routine groundstrokes and sends a backhand long on break point.

Sets even 6-4 4-6:  Appearing to suffer increasing pain in her ankle, the Chinese veteran concedes the next game quickly with a series of routine errors.  Azarenka holds without facing a break point for just the second time and holds for just the third time overall in two sets.  Li now must regroup herself mentally and physically for a final set as her ankle trouble continues to loom.

Li 6-4 4-6 2-1*:  At 15-30, Li botches a mid-court forehand in horrific fashion to set up double break point.  After she holds a game point following a netted groundstroke from Li, Azarenka grows too passive and later double-faults for the 14th break of the match.  Taking advantage of a lull in her opponent’s consistency, the Chinese star edges ahead just before the Australia Day fireworks start in Melbourne.

Azarenka 4-6 6-4 3*-2:  An excruciating match for Li’s body grows ever more painful as she slips on the baseline during the first point after the fireworks and not only twists her ankle again but bangs her head into the asphalt.  After a timeout to assess a potential concussion, she bounces back with a sparkling inside-out backhand return at 30-30 to earn a break point.  Azarenka then shows off her own two-hander to save the break point with a signature cross-court angle.  An early forehand error in the next game and a double fault on the third point dig a hole for Li.  With double break point ahead, however, Azarenka floats a shot over the baseline.  Or rather not, for Hawkeye reverses the call and forces a replay that the world #1 wins with another magnificent cross-court backhand.

Azarenka 4-6 6-4 4*-3:  Holding comfortably for a rare time, Azarenka moves within two games of defending her title.  For her part, Li regroups sturdily from losing the first point of a crucial service games to take command behind her first serve.  She holds with a booming cross-court forehand to keep the suspense very much in this match.

FINAL:  Azarenka wins 4-6 6-4 6-3:  An inside-in forehand winner followed by penetrating backhands puts Azarenka in an early 0-30 hole as she grows too passive.  Creating an interesting change of pace at 30-30, Li claims a break point with a moonball that draws a forehand error.  Azarenka saves it with a first serve out wide and moves within five points of the title with an inside-out forehand winner.  Another wide serve leaves Li serving to stay in the match.  A fine backhand winner down the line keeps her alive at 15-15, but a forehand winner from Azarenka moves her within two points of the title.  The game soon reaches deuce following a deep forehand and a netted backhand from Li, deciding her own fate to the end.  A wild backhand offers Azarenka her first championship point, which she earns with a backhand sailed over the baseline from Li.

Azarenka showed the resolve of a champion in defending her first major title, but Li also deserves credit for battling so fiercely through injury after injury to extend the world #1 deep into a final set.  Credit to both of them.

The “ChiChi” Train Keeps Rolling

What makes a successful doubles pairing?

Of course there are the obvious things, like a dominant serve, a quality volley or solid groundstrokes. However, sometimes the most important thing in crucial situations is not the technical tennis, but the chemistry of the team. The most successful teams trust each other’s judgement completely, which allows them to act on both individual and team instincts on the biggest points. However, this bond doesn’t come overnight. Two of the greatest doubles teams of all time, Bob and Mike Bryan and Venus and Serena Williams, have spent a lifetime developing this chemistry; the American sibling pairs have amassed a staggering 25 Grand Slams titles between them.

Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, while not related by blood, have perhaps the next best thing.

For what they lack in size, as they stand at just 5’5” and 5’4” respectively, they make up for it in guile, passion and craftiness. While each made great strides individually in singles in 2012, the Italians also ruled the doubles court; their history-making year began with a run to the Australian Open finals at the #11 seeds, where they lost to the unseeded pairing of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva.

Errani and Vinci’s exploits in 2012 were reminiscent to those that the fellow-BFF tandem of Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta put together in 2010. Dulko and Pennetta won seven titles that year, including the WTA Championships in Doha; they ended the year as No. 1 and finally got their slam at the 2011 Australian Open.

Following the loss Down Under, Errani and Vinci went on a tear, winning WTA events in Acapulco, Monterrey, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and ‘s-Hertogenbosch. In addition, they came out on top of Nadia Petrova and Maria Kirilenko in three sets to triumph at Roland Garros, and dominated Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka in two to win the US Open. They ascended to the No. 1 ranking in September and finished the year in the top spot.

When Errani and Vinci returned to Australia in 2013, with one less “1” next to their seeding, the pair came full circle. 

Much of the Australian Open doubles tournament’s narrative focused on the Williams sisters, the “de facto best team in the world regardless of the rankings.” There were calls, perhaps unfair ones, for the Williams sisters to be bumped to the top seeding. The duo only played two of the four slams in 2012, in addition to the Olympics. Facing off against the 12th-seeded Americans in the quarterfinals, Errani and Vinci appeared determined to prove their worth. The Americans served for the match twice in the second set and led 3-0 in the third, but the Italians would rally for a 3-6, 7-6(1), 7-5 win. Although the Williams sisters won Wimbledon in 2012 and took home Olympic gold, the Italians did just as much winning on the biggest stages last year. Once a team learns how to win together, it’s a hard habit to break.

The tandem defeated the Cinderella story of the tournament, wildcard Australians Casey Dellacqua and Ashleigh Barty, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 to win their third major championship. ”Our strength is that we always play together,” Vinci said, after winning the title. “We went out there today with lots of grit, we really wanted to win.”

In the last four slams, the Italians have amassed a 20-1 record, the only loss coming in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon to Hlavackova and Hradecka. They now hold 14 doubles titles total, including their three majors. Prior to this stretch, the pair had never won a title greater than an International-level WTA event.

Sometimes, continued success can bring about ego trips and adversely affect a team’s chemistry. For example, Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova, who won three grand slam doubles titles together, had a notorious falling out at an exhibition match in Chile in 2000; when Kournikova agreed with a lines judge about a disputed call, Hingis retorted, “Do you think you are the queen? Because I am the queen.” A screaming match featuring the throwing of flowers, vases and trophies reportedly followed afterwards in the locker room.

Conversely, all of their success has appeared to make Errani and Vinci’s friendship stronger than ever; as far as we know, the biggest off-court spat the Italians have ever had was spurred on by the question: “Who can keep it up for longer?”

http://youtu.be/rRzeLcADnkY

 

Andy Murray Remakes History

Prior to tonight, Roger Federer and Andy Murray had never met before the final stage at Grand Slam level. It’s the kind of statistic that seems revealing until it’s explained away. Really it reflects nothing more sinister than a quirk of the rankings, coupled with that species of coincidence that provides the rich loam in which conspiracy theories take root. In some quarters, the belief flourished rather too well and for rather too long that Federer and Novak Djokovic kept meeting in the semifinals due to the nebulous machinations of the presiding authorities, although an adequate explanation as to why was never proffered. It seemed Murray and Federer were just destined never to meet.

Whatever the outcome of tonight’s match, history was thus on the line. Federer fans inclined to seek succour from precedent were perhaps comforted by the stat that no man had ever backed up winning his first Major by reaching the final of the subsequent one. Similarly-inclined Murray fans could rightfully point out that no one had ever won 18 Majors. Everyone else presumably looked on bemused, and just waited for the players to arrive.

Judging by the respective cheers when the players entered the stadium, a majority of those within Rod Laver Arena supported Federer. Murray, entering first, received a thunderous cheer, but it was immediately eclipsed in volume and duration by the uproar that ushered in his opponent.

Upon winning the toss, Murray, unusually, chose neither to serve nor receive, but picked the end. He chose to begin with the wind at his back, wisely as it turns out. Through the early going Federer’s serve was pummelled, eventually yielding up the break in the third game on the fifth breakpoint. But Murray hardly relented after that, holding his own serve well, while continuing to press on return. At one point the statistic flashed up that the Scot had returned 23 of 24 Federer serves. The pattern was established early whereby Murray would attack Federer’s backhand wing almost without relent, although the times he did relent proved decisive, as he caught the Swiss out repeatedly by going hard into the forehand. He rode his break to the end of the first set, serving it out comfortably.

The patterns grew more varied in the second set, and the players settled into a mounting series of holds, fragmenting the momentum yet escalating the tension. For all that neither player achieved a break point, a tiebreak hardly felt inevitable until it arrived. Momentum continued to lurch drunkenly, with Federer leading by 4-1, before the score returned to parity. The key point came at 5-5, when Murray essayed a foolish slam dunk overhead, leapt too early, framed it and was passed. Federer levelled the match on his first set point.

Fears or hopes that we were thus watching a reprisal of the Wimbledon final proved unfounded. The quality remained stellar from both men in the third, but for a single loose game from the second seed at 2-3. Murray held firm, and once again sealed the set with a strong hold.

The fourth set saw breaks exchanged, though otherwise it cleaved to the patterns of the second. As each hold ticked by, the tension ratcheted up. The key moment came at 5-5, with Federer serving. Three errors brought him to 0-40. A tight rally ensued, with Murray weathering Federer’s assault, and then unloading when he could finally set his feet on a forehand. He served out his first Major victory over Federer with deceptive . . .

Wait, hang on. Actually they fought to 30-30 on Murray’s serve. Federer then constructed a magnificent point to earn the break opportunity, which was converted when Murray overcooked a crosscourt forehand wide. Suddenly it was locked at 6-6, though there was fortunately a mechanism by which this tie could be broken. The subsequent tiebreak belonged to Federer, winning it seven points to two. Murray later confessed that the disappointment of failing to serve out the match had gotten to him. Suddenly a very good tennis match took a bold step towards becoming a classic.

It veered away sharply as Murray shrugged off his disappointment and broke early, leaping to a 3-0 lead. The statistic that Federer had never played back-to-back five setters was ushered out, and duly paraded. He looked weary, while Murray emphatically did not. The persistent story of the night had been Murray’s prowess on serve, and his solidity on return. The most revealing stat was that he won 63% of points on his second serve, while Federer only won 42%. Murray thus earned fistfuls of free points on his own delivery, and guaranteed that his opponent did not. Really, the wonder was that Federer kept it so close. But he couldn’t keep it close in the fifth set, and was eventually broken a second time to lose 6-4 6-7 (5) 6-3 6-7 (2) 6-2.

The handshake afterwards was warm and respectful, and did not reflect the few moments of tension that had punctuated a fine match that was mostly played in tremendous spirits. Federer left the arena to rapturous cheering, his disappointment plain. He must have felt confident after that fourth set fight-back, only to succumb relative quickly. Nevertheless, he was relatively relaxed by the presser, and reiterated several times that he’d been beaten fair and square.

Displaying a confident disdain for historical precedent, Murray thus becomes the first man to progress to a Major final after claiming his first Major title. He has also defeated Federer for the first time in a Major, and for the first time in five sets. If nothing else, the Scot is discovering that no one makes it to the big time with accruing a panoply of obscure statistics.

Try this one: for the first time in approximately 150,000 years, a British man will face an opponent whose nation is experiencing a longer Grand Slam title drought than his. That man is of course Novak Djokovic, and no Serbian man has won a Major in precisely twelve months, although this particular Serb will also be attempting to become the first man to win three consecutive Australian Open titles. Either way you look at it, history will be made, or unmade.

If that sounds painful, there’s every chance it will be. Foreshadowing the final, Murray remarked with a wry smile: “I’ll have to be ready for the pain. I hope it’s a painful match because that means it will be a good one.”

Wizards of Oz (XIII): Previewing the Australian Open Women’s Final and Men’s Doubles Final

On the penultimate day of the tournament, the 2013 Australian Open will crown its women’s singles and men’s doubles champions.  Read about what to expect from those matches.

Azarenka vs. Li:  Meeting in a final on Australian soil for the fourth time, these two women of similar styles have battled to a very even record.  Both can hammer magnificent backhands for winners to anywhere on the court, while the forehands of each can falter under pressure despite providing plenty of firepower at times.  Neither wins many free points on serve, although each has improved in that department lately, and both relish pouncing on an opponent’s second serve.  For these reasons, their previous meetings usually hinge on execution rather than tactics, as well as on the ability of Azarenka and Li to shoulder pressure deep in the tight sets and matches that they have played.  After the Roland Garros champion dominated the early stages of their rivalry, winning four of the first five, the defending champion here has reeled off four straight victories.  But two of those have reached final sets, including the Sydney title tilt last year.

The more impressive of the two in fortnight form, Li has echoed her 2011 surge in Paris by defeating two of the top four women simply to reach the final.  Convincing victories over Radwanska and Sharapova, the latter of whom had troubled her lately, left her record immaculate without a single set lost.  In fact, Li has won 14 of her 15 matches this year in yet another display of the brisk start with which she often opens a season.  Also accustomed to starting seasons on hot streaks before her body breaks down, Azarenka has mounted a creditable albeit not overpowering effort in her title defense.  She has not faced anyone ranked higher than 29th seed Sloane Stephens en route to the final, but she defeated the dangerous Kuznetsova with ease in the quarterfinals and has yielded only one set.  What most may remember from her pre-final effort here, unfortunately, happened in the closing sequence of her semifinal victory.  A dubious medical timeout just before Stephens served (unsuccessfully) to stay in the match incited disdain from throughout the tournament and Twitterverse, which may ripple through the response to her on Saturday.

In an ironic twist, any hostility towards Azarenka might well inspire her to produce her most motivated, relentless effort of the tournament.  The world #1, who will remain there with a title, usually thrives on the negativity of others and can excel when barricading herself inside a fortress of “me against the world” attitude.  For her part, Li Na will hope to show greater poise than she did in this final two years ago, letting a mid-match lead slip away to Clijsters.  The coronation that followed at Roland Garros just a few months later and the steadying presence of coach Carlos Rodriguez should help the Chinese superstar channel her energies more effectively this time.  Thus, one can expect a high-quality match with plenty of passion on both sides, a fitting conclusion to the many intriguing WTA narrative threads that unwound at the year’s first major.

Bryan/Bryan vs. Haase/Sijsling:  Finalists here for a fifth straight year, the Bryans hope to emulate women’s doubles champions Errani and Vinci in atoning for their disappointing runner-up finish to an unheralded team in 2012.  Equally unheralded is the duo of Dutchmen across the net, who have not lost a set since tottering on the brink of defeat in their first match.  Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling needed a third-set tiebreak to elude that initial obstacle, but they have compiled an ominously impressive record in tiebreaks here, which bodes well for their chances in a match likely to feature few break points.  Their relative lack of experience would seem a clear disadvantage against the Bryans, superior in chemistry to virtually every imaginable team.

All the same, the surprising Australian duo of Barty and Dellacqua posed a severe threat to women’s top seeds Errani and Vinci in the corresponding final, so the Bryans cannot take this team too lightly in their quest for a record-extending 13th major title.  They have earned their most consistent success in Melbourne, where they have reached nine total finals, but the twins looked slightly more vulnerable this year in losing sets to the teams of Chardy/Kubot and Bolelli/Fognini.  Neither of those duos can claim anything remotely comparable to the storied accomplishments of the Americans yet still challenged them.  As with those matches, this final will test the conventional belief that two capable singles player can overcome the most elite doubles squads.  Both inside the top 70, Haase and Sijsling have gained their modest success almost entirely in singles, whereas the specialists across the net know the geometry of doubles as well as any team ever has.  That comfort level should prove the difference in a triumph that extends the stranglehold of the Bryans on history.

Victoria Azarenka’s Sticky Situation; Li Na Impresses — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Just a Match

Defending champion Victoria Azarenka has once again reached the Aussie Open final, but unfortunately for her, that run is tainted by controversy thanks to a very questionable medical timeout taken by the Belarusian in her semifinal clash with Sloane Stephens. Odds were Azarenka was still going to win that match whether she did it in two or three. She’d outplayed the teenager throughout the bulk of the two sets, and Stephens has shown a tendency to play more poorly from ahead than behind against her higher-ranked opponents. But with no way to confirm the legitimacy of Azarenka’s claims, however, the decision to take the medical time out will always be labeled (and likely was) a dubious ploy. Azarenka at least had the brains to acknowledge the timing was bad, but she did herself no favors with fluctuating explanations for the time out, which partially explains why the media was so harsh with her. Part of the harsh treatment may have also stemmed from Stephens becoming the new media darling. And likely a chunk of the treatment was due strictly to the fact that it was Azarenka. After all, it’s not as though she’s the only high profile player from either tour to employ such tactics, and she’s certainly not the only one who has an established history of calling questionable medical time outs that appear to alter a match. But she’s not as popular as some of the other offenders, and so she paid a heavier price for it. It’s likely she really doesn’t care though, which is good, because when Azarenka walked off the victor Thursday night, she didn’t win any fans, just a tennis match.

The Forgotten One

What a difference a coach makes. Li Na has joked about how hard new coach Carlos Rodriguez has pushed her, but her results indicate that it’s been worth it. She’s been with the Argentine less than a year, and already she’s picked up multiple titles and is guaranteed of returning to the Top 5 in the rankings come Monday. Her trip to the Oz final is also a reminder to everyone that she’s still a major title contender. Even when it was down to the final four, many pundits only spoke of Azarenka or Sharapova winning the title, with a few over-excited analysts arguing Stephens was destined to go all the way. There was little mention made of the 2011 Roland Garros champion being the one to walk away with the trophy. But after an emphatic thrashing of Sharapova that saw the Chinese woman drop only four games, she’s forced everyone to take notice. She’s playing the better tennis than Azarenka as well, so perhaps Grand Slam title No. 2 is just on the horizon.

Leader of the Pack

Women’s tennis is definitely seeing a young crop of players poised to make a move up the rankings, and the undisputed leader of the next generation is Sloane Stephens. She didn’t necessarily have the most difficult draw at the Aussie Open, but it’s significant that she took out a number of young guns who will be her rivals over the course of the next decade. Her win over Serena was also huge, not just because it got her to the semis, but the manner in how she did it. Though Serena struggled with back spasms in the middle of the match, Stephens didn’t allow it to overly rattle her. Instead, she raised her level. Everyone kept waiting for her to crumble and Serena to step it up, but it was Stephens who proved the more composed and steady of the two. It was a watershed moment for the American, but she can’t rest on those laurels. The real test will be if she can now meet the increased expectations that come with her success Down Under, and with her game, variety, and personality, she looks equipped to do so.

Bubble Burst

Serena Williams’ impressive run at the majors came to a dramatic halt when she was felled by compatriot Sloane Stephens in the Australian Open quarterfinals. To say this loss was as monumental as her defeat to Razzano at the French would be a disservice to Williams. It was a quarterfinal, and unlike in Paris, she was carrying an ankle injury and was hampered by back spasms for a stretch of games in the middle of the match. But to chalk up the loss solely to those injuries would also be to shortchange Stephens, because along with the pain that Serena expressed on her face, we also saw some of that other “P” word – panic. Maybe it was the foot speed or power from her younger opponent. Maybe it was the knowledge that with a trip to the semis she could knock Azarenka out of contention for the No. 1 ranking. Maybe it was just the pressure of the old guard trying to keep out the new wave, or maybe it was a combo of things. Whatever it was, the veteran American began to press – something which more than one commentator suggested likely contributed to the flare of back spasms – and those winners that Serena seemed to crack at will in earlier rounds were suddenly flying long or catching the tape. Privately, Serena is apt to attribute the loss all up to injuries, but the rest of the field should take note. Serena also looked mentally vulnerable.

Unflappable

At the time of writing, we know who one of the men’s finalists will be, and that’s Novak Djokovic. The Serb was the odds makers’ favorite to make the final, so his presence there isn’t shocking. But the manner in how he got there was. There was nothing to indicate that his Round of 16 encounter with Stan Wawrinka would be anything special. He’d gotten the better of the Swiss No. 2 since 2006, so when he found himself down a set and 5-2, you could forgive him and anyone else for being shocked. But as he’s so often done, he dug deep, and when it came to those few crucial points that separate the men from the boys, it was Djokovic who came out on top. He refused to crack and managed to eek out a win 12-10 in the fifth. Questions about the impact of that five-hour epic on his chances for the title immediately followed, but Djokovic proved his fitness by winning six of his next seven sets, routinely defeating Berdych and then drubbing Ferrer en route to the final. He’s going to have to step up his game irrespective of it’s Federer or Murray he faces on Sunday, but battle tested and sufficiently recovered and rested, the odds still favor him.

Live Blog: Andy Murray vs. Roger Federer

Follow this live blog during the highly anticipated semifinal between Andy Murray and Roger Federer.  The winner will battle two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic for the Australian Open title on Sunday night.

Murray 2*-1:  After two forehand errors, the second ending a 28-shot rally, Federer faces an early break point.  Delivering a timely first serve, he snuffs out the threat with a drive volley.  Some crisper baseline play allows the Swiss to hold and avoid the initial deficit.  Murray’s first service game unfolds more routinely, a positive sign for a player who struggled to hold throughout the tournament.  Federer continues to experience greater difficulty in his service games, not finding his first serve as often as he would prefer.  Following another long rally played mostly on the Scot’s terms, he earns two more break points.  Saving the first by approaching the net aggressively, Federer escapes the second with a meek backhand error from Murray.  Another long rally erases a third on a forehand error from the third seed, but an imposing cross-court forehand on a fourth draws a netted reply and gives the Scot the early lead.

Murray 3*-2:  Able to find many more first serves than his opponent, Murray wins more free points en route to a 40-0 lead.  But Federer draws all the way back to deuce and earns his first break point of the match.  Murray saves it with a pinpoint ace out wide and ultimately holds after multiple deuces.  No chance of an insurance break beckons as Federer closes out his game within moments.

Murray 4*-3:  Murray continues to find Federer’s backhand consistently in the rallies, arranging many of the points from his strength (his two-hander) to Federer’s weakness (his one-hander).  He holds a little more easily this time for 4-2, putting the pressure on the Swiss in a must-win game.  Federer digs an early hole for himself with some wayward forehands.  Racing along the baseline in his best defensive point of the match, Murray cracks a running backhand pass to set up double break point.  On the second of the break points, Federer leaps to his left and exhibits his spectacular reflexes with a backhand smash over his shoulder.  He wins the next two points to stay within range.

Murray 5*-4:  At 15-0, Murray wins a fine cat-and-mouse exchange with Federer at the net that unwinds through several expertly angled volleys.  Having held at love to move a game away from the set, he puts little pressure on the Swiss star’s next service game.

Murray 6-4:  Staying steady with the first set on his racket, Murray plays high-percentage tennis in closing out the crucial hold for the loss of just a single point.  Federer must protect his serve more authoritatively from here to climb back into the match.

Murray 6-4 1*-2:  Attacking the net with greater conviction, Federer opens a promising lead but lets the opening game slip back to deuce with his first double fault of the match.  Having navigated that slight disturbance, he can put no pressure on Murray’s serve.  Nor can the Scot on the Swiss serve in the third game as the second set starts quietly.

Murray 6-4 2*-3:  The tactics are there for Federer, while the execution is there only occasionally.  Winning a 16-stroke rally, he appears to have marooned Murray at the net before missing a routine backhand wide as the Scot holds comfortably again.  Under severe pressure at 2-2, 0-30, Federer fends off the younger man with the help of some overly ambitious groundstrokes that wind up in the error column for Murray.  An ace punctuates another vital hold.

Murray 6-4 3*-4:  A slightly loose game from Murray places him in a spot of bother at 30-30, where a passive point from Federer allows the Scot to finish at the net.  An ace takes Murray to 3-3, and gives him the momentum to mount an early challenge in his return game.  Showing off his touch and court coverage, he outmaneuvers Federer again at the net.  Not deterred by that setback, the Swiss star sweeps four of the next five points to hold wit some more consistent groundstrokes.

Murray 6-4 4*-5:  Facing a bit of scoreboard tension for the first time, Murray shows no sign of discomfort in hammering a sequence of first serves that give Federer no chance to enter the point.    An unwise drop shot allows Murray a flicker of hope when he converts the forehand pass with room to spare.  But the US Open champion gains no further traction in a game that Federer finishes off with a crisply angled forehand.

Murray 6-4 5*-6:  Serving to stay in the second set, Murray responds with a forehand winner down the line on the first point.  An errant backhand moves Federer within three points of the set, but a brilliant backhand winner down the line finishes a rally during which the Swiss had held the upper hand throughout.  The straightforward hold for 5-5 behind him, he can return to heightening the pressure on Federer’s serve.  In that regard, Murray earns no success.  A pair of perfectly placed volleys lead the Swiss to a love hold that moves the set to the brink of a tiebreak.

Sets even 6-4 6-7 (5-7):  Having won the first set 6-4 and lost the second 7-5 in the Wimbledon final last year, Murray takes care not to fall into the same trap again.  He again holds for the loss of just a solitary point, forcing a tiebreak with the chance to take a two-set lead.  An immediate mini-break falls into the Scot’s pocket when a deep cross-court forehand forces Federer to rush his own forehand into the net.  But Murray loses no time in handing both of his first two service points to his opponent.  Quickly down 1-4 following a Federer first serve-drive volley combination, he wins his next two service points to stay within range.  A vital challenge prevents him from surrendering an extra mini-break, and the tiebreak draws level a point later when the Swiss clanks a routine backhand into the net.  With a service winner, Federer still edges within two points of evening the match, as does Murray with a strong forehand approach.  Down to his second serve, the Scot still closes to the net aggressively to put away what seemed like a futile lob, only to see the Swiss position his feet perfectly to rip a winning pass off the smash.  Another forehand error, sprayed over the baseline, evens this match with a very similar scoreline so far to last year’s Wimbledon final.  Federer won that match in four sets after losing the first.

Murray 6-4 6-7 2-1*:  Trying to build upon his momentum, the second seed slashes a forehand return winner on the first point and plows toward the net two points later, only to net a volley from a strong Murray backhand.  A stinging cross-court backhand expels some of the Scot’s frustrations and allows him to start the set positively.  Losing the rhythm on his first serve, Federer slips into defensive mode and opens a door for Murray to snatch the momentum back directly.  After an extended exchange, Murray gradually exploits the shallow balls from across the net and slips into the forecourt to rush the Swiss into an errant pass.  Quickly seizing command behind his first serve, Federer approaches the net with an inside-in forehand that the Scot cannot answer.  He then thumps down an ace en route to the arduous hold.  Less arduous is Murray’s next service game, which ends at love amid some flustered shots from both men.

Murray 6-4 6-7 3-2*:  More at ease in his next service game, Federer plays superb defense to win the first point from Murray on the next.  Although benefited by a Hawkeye challenge, the Scot now suffers a more taxing service game, complicated by missing a relatively makeable backhand sitter.  That said, Federer lets him off the hook with a wild forehand as he continues to play from behind in this set.

Murray 6-4 6-7 5-2*:  A double fault and a loose forehand provide Murray with another window of opportunity early in the sixth game.  As Federer floats a backhand just long, three break points emerge.  On the second of them, Murray pokes a second-serve return deep enough to assert himself early in the rally, which the Swiss soon ends with a backhand wide.  Two games from retaking the lead, the third seed protects his serve more confidently and strikes consecutive aces (one confirmed by Hawkeye).

Murray 6-4 6-7 6-3:  Rocketing a second-serve return winner on the first point, Murray attempts to create even further pressure.  He overruns a ball at 15-15, though, assisting Federer in surviving the game.  The third set on his racket, Murray recovers from losing the first point to outlast Federer on the second.  From there, an ace, a baseline-clipping forehand winner, and another ace close out the set.

Murray 6-4 6-7 6-3 1*-2:  A little flat at the outset, Federer falls behind break point almost immediately, but he wrong-foots Murray brilliantly to extricate himself.    Despite twisting his ankle while reversing direction, Murray covers the court well enough on the next few points.  A pair of inside-out forehand winners allow him to keep pace early in the fourth set.  Behind a series of wide serves that open the court, Federer holds easily to move ahead again.

Murray 6-4 6-7 6-3 1*-4:  Plunging himself into early trouble, Murray nets a backhand and slices another into the alley to start his next service game.  A sloppy approach error produces three break points, the first two of which vanish behind perfectly placed serves to the Federer forehand.  On the third, though, a second-serve return near the baseline sets up the Swiss on neutral terms in the rally, which ends on a forehand error from Murray.  Surging to 40-0 with one ruthless groundstroke after another, Federer marches within two service holds of a final set.

Murray 6-4 6-7 6-3 3*-4:  Steadier first serves from Murray earn him an easy hold as he rebounds impressively from losing serve for the first time in the match.  Continuing to exploit the Scot’s vulnerability on wide serves to his forehand, Federer allows Murray back into the game with a poor drop shot.  A fine reflex pass by Murray catches him just a hair out of position and creates a break-point chance.  Unable to find his first serve, Federer falls behind from the outset of the rally and cannot recover as his opponent rushes to the net and finishes the point emphatically.

Murray 6-4 6-7 6-3 4*-5:  The two men open the eighth game by trading groundstroke errors, followed by a Murray ace.  Saving a break point that arose from a scintillating Federer backhand down the line, the Scot battles through deuce after deuce while wasting his final challenge on a ball that barely tweaked the baseline.  Finally Murray survives after four deuces, opening up the court with a wide serve and then pummeling his backhand into his opponent’s backhand corner before a forehand error from the Swiss levels the set at 4-4.  A spectacular lob from well behind the baseline opens the next return game for Murray, but Federer closes to 30-30 with formidable first serves.  Straightforward errors take the game to deuce, from where a Swiss forehand barely cleans the line.  Liberated from danger for the moment, Federer holds with a service winner.

Murray 6-4 6-7 6-3 6*-5:  Recalling his excellent efforts when serving to stay in the second set, Murray holds at love to keep the fourth set alive.  A pair of netted groundstrokes from Federer again open the door for him to collect a break that would allow him to serve for the match.  After a backhand floats over the baseline, Murray holds three break points.  Missing his first serve consistently, Federer drops his serve at love  when he fails to retrieve an explosive forehand.

Sets even 6-4 6-7 6-3 6-7 (2-7):  Leading 30-15 after a service winner, Murray drops three straight points to send the fourth set into a tiebreak despite having served for the match, the last on a horrific forehand lashed into the doubles alley.  Federer survives the first point when the Scot tamely nets a backhand, and a vicious return of serve earns him a quick minibreak.  Nevertheless, the minibreak moves back to Murray with a forehand error from the Swiss.  Serving at 2-3, the third seed falls behind from the outset of the point and cannot prevent Federer from finishing at the net in vintage fashion.  An extra minibreak moves the Swiss within two points of a final set, which he collects routinely following two deflated errors from Murray.

Murray 6-4 6-7 6-3 6-7 3-0*:  Impressively managing to collect himself, the third seed held serve to start the final set without undue adversity.  To the contrary, Murray plays steady baseline tennis that earns a break point on Federer’s first service game.  Unable to land his first serve, the Swiss shanks a backhand to concede the early lead.  A disastrous return game allows Murray to hold serve at love and race halfway to victory in an impressive reversal from his fortunes late in the fourth set.

Murray 6-4 6-7 6-3 6-7 4-1*:  The coup de grace would seem to loom when Federer stands vulnerable at the net with 30-30 on his serve.  Netting the pass, Murray continues to allow hope to linger for the Swiss, although a love hold moves him within two games of the final.

Murray 6-4 6-7 6-3 6-7 5-2*:  Rather clearly conceding a Federer service game in which he fell behind initially, the Scot saves energy for the first of the two service holds that he needs.  Murray loses only one point as he prepares to serve for this match yet again.

FINAL:  Murray wins 6-4 6-7(5) 6-3 6-7(2) 6-2:  A pair of weary groundstroke errors suggest that the third seed might not need to serve out the match after all.  At 15-30, a smooth second-serve return winner from Murray leads him to double match point.  Although Federer saves the first, a forehand jerked well long on the second thrusts Murray into his second Australian Open and third straight final at a major.