I won't recap the match, as I wrote about it here on SportPulse:
So I'm just going to give my thoughts on what was a disappointing yet encouraging loss.
From start to finish, Murray was the better player. He outplayed Roger from the baseline. He served much better, hitting 21 aces to Roger's 5. He was the more aggressive player, and utilized his improved forehand better than Roger used his favourite shot. In the end, it was amazing that Fed managed to push Andy to five sets.
I am not truly disappointed from this loss. Andy Murray is now hitting the prime of his career, and is more confident than he has ever been. Only Roger's A-game would have been enough to beat the Scot with the way he was hitting the ball, and Fed didn't have it in him. It was going to be a tough ask in the best of circumstances, and add to that the tough 5-set match against Tsonga, and perhaps by the start of the fifth set, Roger had no gas left in the tank.
Tactically, I think Roger was too passive against Murray, just as he was against Tsonga. His backhand was generally solid, but he didn't hit it down the line as much as he could have, which was strange because that shot was actually working for him quite well. He didn't attack Andy's 2nd serve like he could have, and in general only seemed to be really aggressive when he was behind. He was too content to rally with Murray in the backhand to backhand rallies, and didn't run around his backhand as much as he could have.
The movement of Fed didn't look as sharp as it did in the early rounds, especially against Tomic, where he was sliding from side to side smoothly and calmly defending big ground strokes with no sense of panic. The matches against Tsonga and Murray were very physical, and he wasn't serving like he was in the early rounds, which probably affected his baseline game as he was being made to work very hard to hold serve.
Speaking of the serve, it's just strange how he went from serving so well in the first four rounds to struggling so much against Tsonga and Murray. I understand Andy is arguably the best returner in the world, if not second-best, but Fed hit 5 aces in 5 sets, and 11 aces in 10 sets going back to the match against Jo. Those numbers indicate something might have been wrong physically, and perhaps he tweaked something in the 3rd or 4th round. Or maybe he was feeling so pressured by the presence of Jo and Andy on the other side of the net that he was going for too much and that's why the serve struggled.
Something I noticed also throughout the match against Andy (and Jo) was that Roger was not going for the serves down the T as much as he usually does, and he became predictable, which is very, very unusual for a guy with as much variety off the serve as Fed. On the ad side, he rarely went up the middle and tried hitting the harder wide serve, and on the deuce side he was burned quite a lot by the wide serve which was anticipated and sent back with interest more times than not. Right away Roger was placed on the defensive, not where he wanted to be, obviously.
The 2nd serve return was pitiful. Andy won 63% of his 2nd serve points, and that's a very high number in a high-profile match like that against Roger. That number proves that Fed didn't attack the 2nd ball anywhere near as much as he should have, and in the end, it cost him big. He was too reliant to go to the chip return, a big sign that he was being passive. Slicing the return back deep isn't a bad play, but to chip it short and try to goad Andy into coming in or hitting a short ball just doesn't work because Andy can get to Fed's backhand easier than anyone.
Now, even though I have just pointed out all of Roger's faults and deficiencies against Murray, let me also say that Andy's aggressive game caused Roger many problems and forced him far out of his comfort zone. He served well for nearly the entire 4 hours of the match, and took advantage of Roger's second serves the way Roger should have taken advantage of Andy's. Andy did everything better than Roger did, and that's why he won, fair and square. The conditions were also cooler and windy during the match, so the courts played slower than they had been playing in the previous rounds, which was certainly a HUGE advantage for Andy's game.
I am proud of the way Roger fought. He could have lost the match in 3 or 4 sets (4 definitely as Andy was two points from winning at 30-15 and 30-30) and he played some incredibly clutch tennis when he needed to raise his game. He ran out of gas in the 5th set, but again, full credit to Andy who didn't fold when other players (ahem, Almagro) may have after losing such a turnaround 4th set like that.
There are many positives to take out of the tournament for Roger. He had the toughest draw of the top 4 seeds, and sent a clear message to all his younger rivals by beating Tomic and Raonic decisively. Even though the end result wasn't what we wanted, he showed the world he isn't going anywhere and still wants majors as bad as ever and is willing to do whatever it takes to win them.
This tournament really went to show how big a draw is in this day and age, and especially in this Slam when Nadal wasn't playing. What if Ferrer had been drawn in Fed's half, and the semis were Federer/Ferrer and Djokovic/Murray? We may be seeing a fresh Federer vs Djokovic or Murray, fresh from beating on each other in the semi. Perhaps things may have been different against Murray if Delpo had been drawn in his quarter and he ended up playing Chardy in the QF while Andy played Tsonga. The bottom line is, draws play a big part in Roger's success in Slams these days.
It's onwards and upwards for Fed, and I'm sure he'll go about the next few months the way he did last year. He'll have great chances to bounce back and win in Rotterdam and Dubai, and he'll have a good chance to win Indian Wells and Madrid, even though the latter is back on the regular orange clay. I think he'll put all his efforts into winning Rotterdam, Dubai, and Indian Wells before he'll take off Miami and have an extended break before the heavy part of the season starts with the French Open an Wimbledon. That extra training could help him when that part of the season comes.
As for Murray, he is going to try to become the first man ever to win his second major title one Slam after winning his first. Meanwhile, Djokovic is looking to become the first guy to win 3 straight Australian Opens in the Open Era. I have to give the edge to him, as Andy will be coming off the 4-hour match with Fed and Djokovic has an extra day's rest and had a very easy match against Ferrer. Besides, the Australian Open courts are his best on the entire tour, and I think his game will be too much for Andy to handle.
Whatever happens, it should be an exciting match, even if it will be a baseline slugfest similar to the final last year. I'll take Djokovic in 4 because his confidence is so high right now and he looks unbeatable on this court (and is proving that he is).
Stay happy Fed fans, many positives to take from this tournament.