Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Andy Murray struggles in vain to break Roger Federer's magical grip on greatness

It was a brilliant final, the best since arguably the greatest of all in 2008

Roger Federer and Andy Murray pose after the men's singles final at Wimbledon
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 08: Roger Federer of Switzerland holds the winner's trophy after winning his Gentlemen's Singles final match against Andy Murray of Great Britain on day thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 8, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Lydia Payne, left, and Rosie Erwin camp overnight for access to the grounds for the men's final between Andy Murray and Roger Federer

The Centre Court didn't get its British champion, it didn't have any healing of the 76-year-old wound, but it was maybe not the worst of fates. It just had to go on sharing the champion of the world, the player who is nominally Swiss but above all the property of any nation which can rise up and salute the kind of talent that crosses all borders as though they do not exist.

This may not be the morning cure-all for the pain of Andy Murray, who could not be challenged for a second when he declared that he put in by far his best performance of four Grand Slam final appearances, but for Roger Federer, the man who breaks records and hearts with supreme artistry and a natural-born winning instinct, there was still another reward for quite unprecedented consistency.



When the rain came and forced on the Centre Court roof, it meant that Federer's forensically precise game would make even more remote the dream of Murray that he would be the first home-grown player to win the title since 1936.



Murray fought on with much character and spirit, but he knew he was in the grip of something close to a force of nature.



It was a brilliant final in so many ways, so taut and so luminously expressing the finest quality of two deeply talented players that it had to be rated the best since 2008.



If that sounds like mild praise we just have to remember that the one four years ago was arguably the greatest of all time. It was also deemed historic because it seemed to signal the end of Federer's finest days, the passing of the time when he could go out and explain to a ferocious young challenger like Rafael Nadal some of the most deadly nuances of the game.



Four years on, Federer is suggesting he has made some kind of deal with fate and the passing of the years.



Murray could hardly have played better, more intelligently or with better discipline. He played shots that were sublime. He fought, he scuffled and for more than three hours he consigned the memory of a superbly gifted but self-indulgent nearly man to another lifetime. He was, to put it another way, a credit to the old champion Ivan Lendl, who has brought a new aura of hard-nosed professionalism to the Murray camp.



It is a place which no longer houses a superstar who might just provoke a charge of "drama queen" from former Wimbledon women's champion Virginia Wade. No, this was a contender who made a legitimate claim to be the king of Wimbledon. Unfortunately, the man across the net kept producing a superior claim. So often it came under the category of divine right.



Murray's campaign died, effectively, in the sixth game of the third set. He went into it 2-3 with service, fighting with all the edge and touch that had carried the first set with a confidence that had ambushed Federer. Not only had Federer surrendered that opening set, he had been made to look tentative and now Murray, though no doubt smarting over missed opportunities in the second set, had every reason to believe that he could regain a winning momentum.



It was a belief reinforced by an easy march to 40-0, a position of strength that came in the wake of an extraordinary backhand passing shot which left Federer stunned for at least a moment. In fact, it had the effect of concentrating his mind. What followed was tennis superbly on the edge. Murray had seven game points. There were 10 deuces and it was on the seventh break point that Federer turned the match, gave himself an edge that, after the early alarms, he never looked likely to surrender.



Murray could take much honour from the day which had galvanised much of the nation on both sides of the Scottish border but had, in the Centre Court which had so passionately supported his predecessor Tim Henman, seen – it has to noted – something less than overwhelming support.



This, no doubt, had quite a bit to do with the reverence with which Federer is held in SW19 – but Murray, if his mind had not been centred so hard on the greatest challenge of his career, might just have been discouraged by the fan – the male one – who insisted on shouting "I love you Roger" at critical moments.



There is, of course, not a lot not to love about the champion of champions, the man who seems as much interested in the challenge of defining the game as piling one Grand Slam title on another.



There were times when his extraordinary skill, his management of the court and shots off both fore- and backhand that landed on Murray's psyche with the effect of rapier thrusts, threatened to utterly engulf his opponent.



But Murray was simply not for disintegration, at least not until the final stages of the fourth set when all the world, and also the Scot, knew that Federer was about to draw level with Pete Sampras on the mark of seven Wimbledon wins – and move to his 17th Grand Slam triumph.



When the wounds have healed at least to some extent – the deepest sustained here yesterday may always leave a trace – Murray will be able to tell himself that he did all he could, including producing some of the best of his ability, but that maybe it was true what they said.



True that he had been born with a great gift to play tennis but unfortunately at a time when nature was being particularly generous with its bounty.



Most conspicuously, we have to say, in the case of Roger Federer, who shortly before his 31st birthday is a man who seems most reluctant to put down the task of pushing back the limits of both his ambition and the sheer joy of playing a game which is essentially unfamiliar to the rest of humanity.



Murray went down with courage and, surely, a belief that he will know less wounding days than the one that brought him his fourth defeat in a Grand Slam final. And Roger Federer, he simply sailed on to still another level of easy command and historic brilliance.



He is indeed the champion of champions, the player of players. He plays as though he exists in his own world and within only his own limits. It is something that Andy Murray may come to accept as fresh evidence that the world is sometimes less than fair.



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