January 31, 2010

An Opportunity, Missed

Before Sunday's final at the Australian Open, a few commentators actually gave Andy Murray the advantage over Roger Federer.

It wasn't the craziest call -- the Scot had been playing some of the most impressive tennis of the tournament, only losing one set in the quarterfinals against Marin Cilic and scoring handily more winners than errors in each of his previous matches. The British media was beginning to get excited too, thinking this would be the year the country's seventy-four year Grand Slam drought would end. And Andy was certainly in better shape than he was during his last Major final, in which Federer demolished him at the 2008 U.S. Open. An upset wouldn't be the most surprising thing we've seen.

Murray had his opportunities, of course. After losing his opening service game he answered right back to even the score. He had a few more chances to take the lead in the first set when Federer was serving at two-all, but he failed to convert. His serve seemed to deteriorate and his attitude turned sour -- more than once cameras caught the look of irritation on his face, like a kid being grounded on Halloween.

By the time the second set ended, it looked like Murray was done for, but somehow he found the strength to regroup. He broke Roger in the sixth game of the third set after what was probably the best point of the match, one which brought both players to the net and saw Murray utilize his speed and light touch. He had the chance to serve for the set, but Federer roared back to force a tiebreak. There the Scot had three set points before Roger got his first championship point -- several minutes later, after chances for both men to take the set, it was 13-11 in favor of the all-time Slam champion, who takes home his record-smashing sixteenth Major title.

While Federer was clearly the dominant player on Sunday, I can't help but wonder what would have happened had Murray converted any of his five set points. It's not a common occurrence, but we've seen matches taken away from Roger, most notably at last year's U.S. Open -- if Andy had kept the game going, there's no telling what the next set or two would have brought. But as it stands, Andy Murray is oh-for-six in sets at Grand Slam finals.

Hey, you know who else hasn't won a set in the six she's played for the big game? Dinara Safina, who also can't seem to pull it together when it counts the most, has lost in straights to Ana Ivanovic, Serena Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova. This would have been a great chance for Murray to distance himself from that comparison. That's not to say, of course, that neither will ever be able to come out on top -- but I don't think it's happening any time soon.

So the first Grand Slam of the new year is in the books, and not without results we should have expected all along. Sure there were blips along the way, and some scares that made you think the outcome wasn't inevitable, but at the end of a long fortnight, both Roger Federer and Serena Williams are once again crowned King and Queen -- the fifth time that's happened since the 2003 Wimbledon Championships.

And so the stage is set for the rest of the year -- and it's looking good for an exciting season!

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