In-form Federer cruises into final

Mon, Nov 12, 2012, 00:00

TENNIS:As if it were not difficult enough trying to beat Roger Federer playing near his best, Andy Murray had to fight sections of his home crowd – and some trembles in his own game – before bowing out of the semi-finals of the concluding tournament of the season.

Federer won 7-6, 6-2 in the second semi-final of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals last night and meets Novak Djokovic in tonight’s final, the Serb having earlier accounted for Juan Martin Del Potro in three absorbing sets.

For all that the notion of Swiss neutrality is an historical cliche – and those waving the Red Cross flag were, of course, proud and entitled to cheer for their representative – the noise throughout most of the arena seemed inordinately in favour of the world number two against Murray, who might have thought he could count on a majority of the support given this was their first match back in the UK since that spirit-raising victory in the final of the Olympic Games.

Has the goodwill of a glorious summer been spent already? Or were this tennis-savvy audience merely passing hard judgment on the quality of the contest – because there can be no argument Federer deserved to win. He punched pure, sweet forehands down both wings, served as efficiently as he has all week and proved impervious to Murray’s best efforts on serve, after the Scot started brightly.

Nevertheless, the match left a slight sour taste in the mouth, and two incidents stood out. After breaking Federer in the first game of the match, Murray dropped serve and, when deep in a fightback at 5-4, was heckled in mid-serve and double- faulted, prompting a plea from the umpire for respect and silence.

Then, towards the end of an enthralling tie-break, trailing 4-6, Murray changed racquets and a tiny section of the ground whistled and booed, a quite remarkable spectacle. From that point on, anti-climax kicked in. Federer held his focus, Murray could not rediscover the zest of his promising opening.

The second set went in a bit of a blur. When Federer served for the match after an hour-and-a-half, it was as if the air had been sucked from this heaving theatre of drama. He finished with brutal simplicity. His neat forehand down the line to end the misery for Murray wrought a bounce and a smile from the normally cool Swiss.

The beast in Djokovic, meanwhile, has been stirred. Even as he was handing out chocolates to tennis journalists after qualifying, you guessed the charity would end right there. The Christmas gift to his regular inquisitors was a nice gesture by a most interesting man, but there will be no sentiment when he makes a grab for the title tonight.

The Serb arrived in London from Paris understandably preoccupied by worries about his father’s health, but encouraging news on that front looks to have cleared his mind and he was back to near his ruthless best, content, relaxed and dangerous. The reinstated world number one will be tougher to beat tonight than he might have been a week ago.

This was tennis, for the most part, which touched the heights, two uncompromising ball strikers leaving nothing but sweat on the court, stretching muscle and mind to the limit in a tense three-setter that lasted two hours and 11 minutes.

Djokovic won 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 pulling away. However, the Argentinian looked dominant in the first set and stayed on level terms until early in the second when, after a period of sloppy tennis, Djokovic roared back to life.

The ball left his racket with more certainty, the near-misses of the first spell now clipped lines down the channels and deep, as the rush of a champion’s desire coursed through him. “I had a little, let’s say, crisis from four-all in the first set to two-all in the second,” he said, “where I didn’t feel so good on the court, struggling to find my momentum and my rhythm. Also, when mentally you’re not confident and you’re not in the control of the match, your energy level drops. So I tried to be positive and push myself to fight for every point. I always believe I can come back.”

When he takes on “the look”, nostrils flared and muscles twitching, he seems transported to another place. Del Potro, peering down from 6ft 8in, was not intimidated but, from the moment Djokovic broke him in the third game of the second set after an long exchange of quality shots, the match ebbed slowly away from him.

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