To the apparent and surprising glee of the crowd of 17,800 at the O2 Arena, Roger Federer turned his semifinal against Andy Murray on Sunday inside out after trailing 2-4 in the first set and swept into yet another final at the ATP World Tour Finals — a tournament he already has won a record six times — with a 7-6 (5), 6-2 win over the Scot.
The Scot. Yes, unbelievably, that may have something to do with the fact that Murray did not receive anything like the support one would have expected for a man who had brought Britain its first Grand Slam title in 76 years when he won the US Open in September. Scottish demands for independence irk some English people, and they insist on bringing politics into the sporting arena — which is grossly unfair to the athletes. Federer’s immense worldwide popularity might have been another factor, and there also was quite a large contingent of Swiss supporters in attendance. But to hear Murray booed after he bounced a racket and walked over to his chair to change was extraordinary in such a critical match.
Murray brushed off the crowd reaction afterward, saying it had not disturbed him and pointed to Federer’s popularity. But it must have hurt and there is no question that something affected him in the second set. Having lost control of the tiebreak from 4-4, making three errors to lose it 7-5, Murray promptly lost his serve from 40-0 up in the third game of the second set. It was a killer, it was his fault and he knew it.
“When I got broken from 40-love in the second set, that was down to me hitting three drop shots and missing a regulation backhand at the net,” Murray said. “Once he gets ahead, he’s incredibly hard to stop. He tends to play better and better. I feel like I gave him that advantage.”
Murray was trying hard to stay positive. “It’s been the best year of my career by a mile, so it would be silly to look back negatively now because I’ve achieved things I’ve never achieved before.”
He recognizes the part his new coach Ivan Lendl played in the improvement in his game. On this particular night, however, it was the tactics of Federer’s less celebrated helper, Paul Annacone, that proved decisive. If Lendl has been telling Murray to go for his shots more, particularly on the forehand, Annacone, a natural volleyer in his playing days, has been guiding Federer back to the more aggressive attitude of his earlier years when he was serving and volleying on any fast- or medium-paced surface.
It is almost impossible to go in behind the serve on a regular basis now, but this match turned on Federer’s decision to suddenly start chipping and charging after an indifferent start that saw him lose his opening service game of the match.
It happened in the eighth game with the score at 30-all. Until then, Murray — who had played a brilliant first set against Novak Djokovic before losing in round-robin play — had appeared to be in total control. But Federer snuck in on the next point with a chip and charge after a backhand-to-backhand rally. Having earned his first break point, this great match player needed no further bidding. In he came again with a deep approach, and Murray netted his forehand. The match was back on level terms, and Murray never again took the lead.
Federer talked about his tactics afterward. “Chip and charge — it’s a good feeling when it works, but if it doesn’t it leaves you a bit stranded at the net,” he said. “Today it worked, so I’m happy. Don’t know if I’m going to throw in those kind of plays in the final tomorrow. But Novak is probably going to have something to say about that.”
Federer has a 16-12 career edge over Djokovic, who rallied to beat Juan Martin del Potro in the first semifinal. But the pair are split 2-2 this year — Djokovic having won twice on clay, while Federer won in the Wimbledon semifinals and in the final of the ATP Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati in August.
“We’re just going to press the last juice left in our bodies and make it a successful year end,” Federer said. “Really everyone here has had a successful year, and now there’s just one more match to go.”