January 29, 2010

Revenge Is Sweet

Way back in August Andy Murray was being hailed as the best chance to spoil Roger Federer's attempt at winning a sixth U.S. Open championship. That never happened, it turned out, because a youngster named Marin Cilic got in the way.

The unassuming Croat avenged a tough three-set loss in the fourth round of Roland Garros by stunning the heavy favorite in just about two hours. He won a solid eighty percent on first serves, fired off twice as many aces and broke his opponent five times while never seeding his own games. It was note the results Murray would have wanted.

A few months before that in Montreal, Roger Federer was ahead 5-1 in the third set of his quarterfinal match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and his rival looked wholly defeated. But somehow the Frenchman was able to pull off the comeback of the year -- against the most unlikely of rivals -- to win the deciding tiebreak.

This week both Murray and Federer had the opportunity to avenge these tough losses during the semis of the Australian Open -- and both took their tasks seriously. While the Scot ceded his first set, it appeared the twenty-two sets Cilic had already endured finally began to take their toll. Murray was able to pull even and ultimately close out the match in just over three hours.

Roger benefited from a similarly exhausted opponent. Shockingly Tsonga, who made the finals in Melbourne in 2008, had never played a five-set match until this week. But after a grueling fourth round against Nicolas Almagro and a disappointing sputter by Novak Djokovic in the quarters, Jo-Wilfried had amassed a nice 2-0 record in the long matches. That score wasn't even remotely challenged on Friday -- three-time champ Federer sailed through in easy sets, winning eighty-four percent of his first serves and breaking Tsonga five times. In ninety minutes he was on and off the court and ready to contest his twenty-second Major final.

So we're in for a reprise of the '08 U.S. Open, where Roger rolled over Andy in his first Slam championship match. Will Murray be able to avenge that loss too? He does, after all, hold a 6-4 lead in head-to-heads against the King, and has been playing some of the most impressive tennis in the field, losing only one set this tournament.

But Roger has gone two years without a title Down Under -- the longest stretch he's ever allowed anyone to take what's been so often his. He exacted his own revenge over Nikolay Davydenko two rounds ago and barely had to break a sweat in the semis. From what I've seen he's certainly going to do his best to keep Murray Major-less -- and I have a feeling, he'll be successful.

Before that, though, the women's final on Saturday will feature two more players looking to make up for the past. Serena Williams won her last meeting with Justine Henin in the 2008 Miami quarters, the Belgian's penultimate tournament before retiring, but Justine took their three prior matches, all at Grand Slams. I guarantee that both will come out swinging, and can't help but feel the result will set an interesting tone for the rest of the year.

Here's hoping it's a good one!

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