One semi-final streak had to end and it was Andy Murray rather than Roger Federer who left Rod Laver Arena in disappointment here today.
The 26-year-old Scot was aiming to stretch his record to five consecutive appearances in the last four of the Australian Open but instead it was Federer who extended his own remarkable sequence by winning 6-3, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3. Federer will play his 11th successive Melbourne semi-final here on Friday when he takes on his old rival, Rafael Nadal.
Murray never knew quite what to expect from his first Grand Slam tournament following back surgery last September. Considering that he arrived here having played only two competitive matches in the last four months, he should not be too dissatisfied with a run that ended only after he had pushed Federer hard. By the end of a match that lasted three hours and 20 minutes, it was perhaps no surprise that the effort appeared to be taking a toll on the Scot.
Federer, having recovered from his own back problems, has looked in excellent shape over the last 10 days. Recruiting Stefan Edberg to his coaching entourage appears to have put a spring back in the former world No 1’s step, while a new racket has helped him to strike the ball with all his old confidence.
Murray, one of the best returners in the game, forced only two break points, of which he converted one. Federer created 17 break points, taking four of them. While Murray has enjoyed playing without the back pain he suffered regularly before undergoing surgery, he is still to find the consistency that has so often been his trademark. On several occasions here, especially in the first two sets, he more than held his own in rallies only to lose the point with one loose shot.
Federer took the first set in just 31 minutes after making the only break in the fourth game when Murray hit a careless forehand beyond the baseline. In the second set the Scot paid for a single break of serve in the fifth game. From 30-30 he netted a loose forehand and then put the ball wide when going for a big winner.
It had taken Murray time to warm up but as the third set progressed the Scot began to play with increasing confidence. At 4-4, nevertheless, Federer broke for the third time. There was a moment of controversy when the Swiss struck a winning lob at 15-15 when the ball appeared to bounce twice before he hit it and he won the next two points as Murray hit a backhand long and then netted a forehand.
However, adversity often brings the best out of Murray and when Federer served for the match in the following game he was broken, the Scot converting his second break point after some bold hitting.
In the tie-break Federer went 6-4 up to create two match points, but Murray’s response was superb. Bristling with controlled aggression, he saved both by outrallying Federer with a succession of big shots.
The next two points were equally impressive. Murray created a set point with a thumping forehand winner and converted it by forcing Federer into an error with the potency of his return of serve.
Now it was game on. With both men in excellent form there were some thrilling rallies, especially in the second game of the fourth set, which lasted nearly 20 minutes, Federer failing to take six break points as Murray hung on gamely. Murray saved another break point at 2-3, this time with a volley, but at 3-4 Federer made the final break of the match and served out for victory with an ace.
Murray has been on the road for nearly two months and his round-the-world trip will not end here. His next appearance will be in San Diego next week as Britain take on the United States in their first Davis Cup World Group tie for six years.