Federer, relaxed and in command, set for Murray
MELBOURNE, Australia – Roger Federer decided the crowd didn’t get quite enough value from his semifinal romp over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, so he worked on his comic routine.
After dismissing his 10th-seeded opponent 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 Friday night, Federer looked toward the final and the last obstacle between him and a fourth Australian Open title – Andy Murray.
Murray, as the Scotsman is incessantly reminded, will be trying to end a long drought for British men at Grand Slam tournaments when he takes the court Sunday night.
“I know he’d like to win the first for British tennis since, what is it 150,000 years?” Federer cracked during his courtside interview. “The poor guy who has to go through those moments over and over again.”
Reminded later that the dry spell extended only 74 years, Federer smiled.
“Oh,” he said. “I missed it by a little bit.”
The last British man to win a major was Fred Perry in 1936. Murray, who beat Marin Cilic in his semifinal a night earlier, is the first British man in the Open era to reach two Grand Slam finals and the first Brit to make it to a championship match in Australia since John Lloyd in 1977.
“He’s got a lot of expectations. … The pressure’s going to be tough, so we’ll see how he handles it,” Federer said. “I’ll make sure I’ll make it as tough as possible.”
Federer was asked if he could imagine being in the same position as Murray – carrying the hopes of an entire country long denied.
“You could be one of those nations that never had a Grand Slam champion, you know,” he said. “No, I mean, it’s just funny because that’s the question he probably gets asked quite a bit. Wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a bit fed up by it. I think he’s done really well, handling the pressure and considering the media in England …. he’s done great.”
Federer, winner of a record 15 majors, will be playing in his 22nd Grand Slam final. He was relaxed as ever at Rod Laver Arena in dispatching Tsonga in 1 1/2 hours. Tsonga offered glimpses of sporadic brilliance, but he was no match for the sublime play of Federer.
Murray can take solace in this statistic: He leads Federer 6-4 in career head-to-heads. But the top-ranked Swiss has won the last two and, more important, their only Grand Slam encounter: a straight-sets victory at the 2008 U.S. Open final.
Federer said he’s still driven to win the majors. He came to Australia last year trying to equal Pete Sampras’ record 14 career titles. He left in tears after a five-set loss to Rafael Nadal.
Then came Paris. Federer won his first French Open title to complete a career Grand Slam of clay, grass and hard-court titles.
Murray took out Nadal this time. The Spaniard retired in the third set of their quarterfinal because of an injury to his right knee that is expected to sideline him for a month.
Tsonga ousted the only other man to beat Federer at Melbourne Park in the last five years when he beat 2008 champion and No. 3-ranked Novak Djokovic in the quarters. Djokovic defeated Federer in the semifinals two years ago and Tsonga in the final.
But the quarterfinal victory proved one five-set match too many for Tsonga, who had never gone the full distance at a major before and had to do it twice in consecutive matches to reach the semis.
The Frenchman said his stamina was fine, but he was unlucky to catch Federer on one of his better days. Asked who could have won when playing Federer at that level, Tsonga was unequivocal: “I think nobody.”
“Sometimes you play a guy and the guy plays well … and sometimes you play against him again and he plays just unbelievable,” Tsonga said. “Today he was really, really good. He is so relaxed. So relaxed.”
Also looking relaxed was Serena Williams. She and sister Venus successfully defended their Australian Open doubles title Friday with a 6-4, 6-3 win over top-seeded Cara Black and Liezel Huber.
It was their 11th Grand Slam doubles title. Serena also has 11 major singles titles, and will be aiming for a 12th Saturday when she plays seven-time Grand Slam winner Justine Henin.
Serena Williams has four Australian titles since 2003, all in odd-numbered years. That could be a good omen for Henin, a former No. 1 playing her first major since losing to Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals of the 2008 Australian Open.
She quit suddenly a few months later in May that year. Henin, a winner in Australia in 2004 and finalist in 2006, is only two tournaments into her return to the tour.
She is trying to emulate the mighty Grand Slam comeback of fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, who won the U.S. Open last September in only her third tournament after two years off.
The men’s doubles final will follow Henin-Williams, with another pair of American siblings in contention. Twins Bob and Mike Bryan, seeded No. 1, will play No. 2-seeded Daniel Nestor of Canada and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia.
Murray will no doubt be on the practice courts – he had an extra day to prepare for the final than Federer. But if anyone knows how to time a run, it’s Federer. He has made it to the finals of 18 of the last 19 Grand Slam tournaments, including eight straight since his loss in Australia to Djokovic in 2008.
Not that he’s giving much helpful advice to Murray.
“He’s in his second Grand Slam final now. I think the first one’s always a bit tougher than the second one,” Federer said. “But now that he didn’t win the first one, I think doesn’t help, for the second one around.
“Plus he’s playing, you know, me, who’s won many Grand Slams prior to that, been able to win here three times. So I know what it takes and how to do it, which is definitely an advantage.”
Usually, the guy playing Federer has nothing to lose. Federer sees it differently this time.
“I did it before,” he said. “I think he really needs (the win) more than I do. So I think the pressure’s big on him.”