Andy Murray said he needed to play the best tennis of his life to beat Roger Federer in the final of the Australian Open. He didn't. And he didn't. Federer said he would win if he got in front early. He did. And he did.
“Congratulations to Roger,” said Murray afterwards. “His achievements in tennis are incredible ... He was a lot better than me tonight. Hopefully one time I can come back and win here.”
Murray paused as the tears welled and continued: “Got great support back home the past two weeks. Sorry I couldn't do it for you tonight.”
He looked away, paused and delivered his best line of the tournament: “I can cry like Roger,” he said, recalling Federer's tears when losing the final last year. “It's just a shame I can't play like him ... I'm done. Sorry.”
“You're too good not to win a grand slam, so don't worry about it,” said Federer in response.
“He is the king, he is the master,” said the court announcer at Rod Laver Arena, and who could argue? This was Federer's 16th slam. There will be more. Murray still waits for his first - but this performance, rather than the result, will unsettle his progress.
He had looked so assured all through the tournament. On the big night, he did not fully trust his talent. His conservatism sucked the life from his gifts.
Federer won 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (13-11) partly because Murray's tennis is too similar to that of the game's finest player: full of chips, spin and angles, with measured work from deep before going to the net — except the game's finest player did it much, much better tonight.
Federer kept Murray off-balance, mentally, and on a shaky right knee, which the Scot looked to be favouring from midway through the second set, as the game ebbed away from him. He had five chances to close out the third set and saved two championship points in the tie-break, but got what he deserved.
Murray lost because he didn't seize the moment — or, rather, several moments, when he hung back, refused some easy volleys and generally tried to play Federer almost exclusively on his backhand, so fearful was he of the champion's forehand. When he changed strategy, he only intermittently worried the world No1.
But it was his poverty of imagination that did for Murray; even when there was little to lose, as Federer hit occasionally sublime heights of excellence to go two sets up, Murray baulked at coming to the net. Murray’s feet were leaden, his movements stiff. The first step, so assured in his six matches on the way to the final, was hesitant. And his mind looked all over the place.
His serve was way off in the first set and, by the time he got some of it back his touch had deserted him. He probably chips more than anyone at this tournament but it was Federer who employed the drop shot to near perfection, so loose and confident did he play.
Murray was tight. Tactically, he didn't get it right, banking on safety-first tennis when daring was needed in the second set. But he declined to risk even the occasional charge to the net.
Federer hurt him throughout with a forehand of wicked speed and accuracy. He sowed doubt where for a fortnight there had been certainty.
Federer beat Murray across the board in stats; including on errors — but that didn’t matter, and in fact told the story: Federer profited from his risk-taking.
When Federer took the second set, more easily than the first, Murray had a killer stat to overcome: in matches in majors, Federer had never lost when two sets up — and won all 155 of them. Make that 156.