Three singles matches in three days remain at the Australian Open. Roger Federer and Andy Murray meet in the last semifinal on Friday with the winner getting Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final.
• No. 2 Roger Federer vs. No. 3 Andy Murray (3:30 a.m. ET, ESPN): I feel pretty confident in saying that this men’s semifinal won’t turn out to be the 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 drubbing that David Ferrer received from Djokovic on Thursday night. No, for all the dramatic previews and trailers the men’s draw has provided — and we have to thank the Bernard Tomics, Stanislas Wawrinkas and Jo-Wilfried Tsongas of the world for that — the screen now turns dark. We begin the main attraction of the fortnight, as 128 players have dwindled to three. The Big Three.
Federer and Murray meet before the final of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time. Murray has another shot to get the one scalp that has eluded him on the big stage. It’s easy to forget that Murray is one of the few players, along with Rafael Nadal, who actually has a winning record against Federer. But despite that 10-9 edge, Murray is 0-for-3 against Federer in Slams, with his most recent loss coming in last year’s Wimbledon final. Of course, all that came before Murray got the better of him in the Olympic gold-medal match, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4, his first best-of-five win over Federer.
Murray, the only semifinalist who has yet to drop a set, was blessed with an easy draw after Jeremy Chardy knocked out No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro in the third round. As a result, he’s faced only one seeded player through five matches, No. 14 Gilles Simon, who was clearly dead-legged after his five-set marathon win over Gael Monfils a round earlier. So the question is whether Murray is battle-tested coming into this match. Federer looked untouchable through four rounds before a five-set tussle with No. 7 Tsonga in the quarterfinals, narrowly escaping with a 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-3 win.
The British press reported this week that the Murray camp was unhappy that the Scot was given no night matches until now, putting him at a disadvantage to Federer, who has played four straight under the lights on Rod Laver Arena. Murray dismissed the reports, saying he would have scheduled things the same way if he were the tournament director. Regardless of what the truth is, the first few games of the match will be telling. After his quarterfinal victory, Murray went out to hit at Hisense Arena under the lights to get used to the conditions, but Hisense and RLA play differently. Murray won’t have much time to make the adjustments he needs, and if he’s not careful he could find himself in a one-set hole.
The keys for Murray are his serve and forehand. Those two shots allowed him to take his first set off Federer in a major, at Wimbledon, and beat him one month later at the Olympics. When they’re clicking, he can hold easily, remain aggressive in the rallies and stick his running passing shots. The forehand is the shot that’s more prone to break down for Murray, and Federer will keep banging away to that side in hopes of earning the error.
PREDICTION: Federer in five sets.