What started out as a tennis match descended into a street fight that skirted the boundaries of decorum as Andy Murray ground down Roger Federer to reach the final of the Australian Open.
There he will meet Novak Djokovic on Sunday in a Grand Slam decider for the second
time in four months.
Federer, who had not lost to Murray in three matches at Grand Slams, never expected to see the old Murray across the net in Melbourne and the fired-up third seed did not disappoint him – or himself.
Murray's younger legs and lungs pounded out the mileage, his heart pumped with feeling as well as blood, and the grit in his soul carried him over the line after an ugly exchange towards the end of the fourth set to win 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-7, 6-2.
No tea party
Serving for the match at 6-5 in the fourth, Murray, stopped in mid-rally then passed Federer on his backhand side. Federer, irked at what he perceived to be gamesmanship, said something that provoked Murray into an ugly sneer in reply. From there until the end, it was no tea party.
When Federer forced a tie-break and took the match into a fifth set, the feelings did not subside. At 15-0 in the second game, Murray had the simple option of passing down the line with a backhand volley but drilled it at Federer, who celebrated when it went long.
He was not so happy when he framed a backhand and again Murray broke, for 2-0. They went punch for punch to the final bell and indulged in the most rudimentary of pleasantries at the net after Federer had sent his final forehand long.
Federer smiled. Murray did not. Nobody present could remember such naked antagonism between them. This mattered hugely to both and Federer deserves credit for extending the semifinal after several times looking down and beaten.
"It's always tough against him," Murray said. "In the Slams he plays the best tennis. When his back's against the wall, like at 6-5 in the fourth set, he played some unbelievable shots. I just had to dig in to win. I'm known for losing a lot of big matches and not beating Roger (in a five-set-match) until the Olympics. I didn't serve as well at the end as the start but I hit it pretty good from the back of the court. He hit the lines at that point, though, like he always does when he has to. I was pretty nervous but he played very well. I didn't play a very good tie-break.”
The ball flew so powerfully from Murray's racquet that the Swiss was some times rendered an impotent onlooker. However, such is Federer's heart and class, he found enough good tennis to make a fight of it over exactly four hours.
Federer had been introduced as Rodney (where did that one come from?) when they warmed up and, for worryingly long passages, he was not himself.
Almost from the first exchange, Murray's body language was as loud and clear as the message on his T-shirt this week: prepare, attack, destroy.
Murray cruised through the first set, 6-4 in 46 absorbing minutes. Federer clearly was troubled by his serve, landing only half of them at first attempt.
There were no break points in a tight second set but Federer got his nose ahead in the tiebreak, setting up set point with a beautiful backhand pass and yelling "Allez!" as he converted it.
It was the first set Murray had lost all tournament and he looked intent on making it the last, breaking for 4-2 in the third when Federer went wide and closing out with his 16th ace.
Federer was still not done, however, and two hours and 42 minutes into the match he finally got his first break when Murray went wide with a forehand in the 71-minute fourth set. Murray's brilliant returning helped him break straight back, however, and he was in front with another break four games later but just could not serve out for a win.
"When I was serving for the match at 6-5 in the fourth, he came up with some unbelievable shots," said Murray, who lost the ensuing tiebreak 7-2. Murray raced to a 3-0 lead in the decider, however, and was soon raising his arms in triumph after reaching his sixth Grand Slam final.
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