It’s a strange and novel experience as a Federer fan to watch him lose in the semifinal of a grand slam and feel a sense of pride mixed with disappointment.
We could talk about the match and how well Andy Murray played through out the 5 sets. We could discuss how Murray was aggressive, calm and unphased, how he served big and served at a high percentage, giving Federer few opportunities to pound on his typically wimpy 2nd serve. We could talk about this “new” Murray, having emerged when he took the gold medal at the London Olympics, encased in an impenetrable balm of self-assurance.
We could talk about all those things and more. But let’s face it – none of you pass by my little slice of cyberspace to read about Andy Murray, so let’s just get to the pride and disappointment part, shall we?
Every time a grand slam draws near these days, it seems that the tennis media can’t stop themselves from declaring the end is near. Roger Federer is 31, we’re helpfully reminded of the obvious. The bright young things of the future are here now. Time is ticking, mortality is inevitable, and as Pat McEnroe took a whole 10 seconds to suggest right after the semifinal, we should all just take a moment and let reality sink in for Roger Federer.
Reality, as it turns out, is actually pretty sweet. Federer came through a tournament with – by far – the most grueling draw of the top 4 seeds. Davydenko, Tomic, Raonic, Tsonga and Murray. Federer has had to face some of the best of his contemporaries, the most promising of the bright young things, the big serves, the most relentless returners. He came through the first four rounds in unbroken form. It took the A-games of both Tsonga and Murray to push his quarter and semifinal matches to 5 sets, one of which he would win, the other he would fall not-so-agonizingly short.
Federer didn’t play his prettiest tennis in either matches, but he played the kind of tennis that would have made Brad Gilbert proud: at times ugly, a little too messy, but at all times focused, switched on and incredibly competitive. I’ve always thought there was a leech-like quality to Federer’s game on an off-day: the harder you pulled, the most obstinately he clung on, sucking the life and momentum out of your game. It took the form of Andy Murray’s career, with more confidence and self-belief than he ever had in his life, not to fall victim to Federer’s leeching of the fourth set from him on Friday. Til the very end, Federer fought like a man driven to win his first ever grand slam, not a champion sailing off into the sunset of his career.
So if there is a new capital R Reality to sink in after this tournament, it is not that McFed walks away dejected, crumbled, obiturarised. It is GAME ON. Time for Anaconda and McFed to think about how to hit back, what new tactics to devise, and just how far this potato-nosed Swiss can push the limits of his own adaptability to changes in the tennis top order. Roger Federer may not have won the Australian Open 2013, but he has gotten himself a good springboard for the rest of the year, and I’ve seen enough fight, focus and fitness from him this tournament to know that 2013 may just be the most competitive year in men’s tennis yet.