Shanghai Masters 1000 Final, 17 October 2010

Murray d. Federer 6/3 6/2
It is tempting to say that when Roger Federer dropped serve from 40-15 in the opening game of the match the writing was on the wall. Equally, when he failed to convert on two break-back points in the third game, I’d like to report that I adduced how the rest of this final was going to pan out. But I didn’t, of course I didn’t. Narrative is the shape we choose for events we’ve already seen, and (to pretentiously paraphrase Sartre) this night delivered its riches in a jumble.

Anyway, there was another, equally persuasive narrative at work. Namely: form. True, Murray entered the match trailing dismembered opponents in his wake. But then, so had Djokovic the night before, only to discover that obliterating lesser opposition counts for little when you run into the dudes who monogram their sneakers. There was no reason to think Murray would fare any better. Except he did, and as it happened, those two early events did indeed prove indicative of how the match would play out.

Firstly, at no moment would Federer be safe, even on a first serve at 40-0. In fact, especially at 40-0, since Murray missed precisely one return from the ad court all match, and his returns were invariably potent. Even lining up a shoulder-high half-court ball with his forehand, with Murray off the court, Federer was not safe. No points more ably demonstrated this than the last couple of the first set. Both were points Murray had no business winning, yet win them he did, with a pair of improbable forehand passes that brought the house down. “Murr-aculous!” crooned Robbie Koenig.

The other clear thread was Federer’s impotence at the key moments. Six times he failed to convert break points, and only once was it due to a service winner. A large part of hiring Paul Annacone was apparently to inject more aggression into his play. With that in mind, we can imagine how disappointed his new coach must have been when Federer blew one break chance with a lame drop shot into the net, or when he engaged in a 29-stroke rally and never once sent the ball within a metre of either sideline, instead seeking to bamboozle an utterly unflappable Murray. In the end, he invited Murray to go up the line, and so Murray did, smacking a clean winner that was itself not close to any line, or to Federer.

Honestly though, a better Federer would have made it closer, but that’s not a reason to think he would have won it. This was Murray’s match from the get-go. He was clean where Federer was sloppy, desperate where Federer was agitated, and always willing to run. It’s the best I’ve seen Murray play since the Australian quarterfinal, which is high praise for a guy who took out Nadal and Federer back-to-back in Toronto, both of whom favour personalised footwear. The trick for him will be to maintain this kind of form and confidence once the big boys get to London, when the English will suddenly remember they’re British for a week, and the Scot will be installed as unbackable favourite by a rapacious press.

As for Federer, he can hardly be displeased with his week, especially considering it was his first outing since the US Open, and that he posted fine wins over the likes of Isner, Soderling and Djokovic. He’s due to play Stockholm next week, but a strong showing here might well see him pull out of that one, the better to remain fresh for his beloved home tournament in Basel. Beating Djokovic there would really be sweet revenge.

Over-the-top MC moment of the week: “Let’s use our cameras and video cameras to capture this historical and epoch-making moment!”

Full matches from this event can be downloaded here. As ever, please avoid highlights.

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