Andy Murray still has a long way to go to achieve his goal of becoming the world No1 but there was more evidence that it may be only a matter of time. His 6–4, 6–4 victory over the top dog, Roger Federer, took him to the verge of winning the Shanghai Masters for the third straight year, and if anything it was more dominant than the scoreline suggests. Such is the Scot’s confidence, it seems like he is improving almost by the week.
Having shrugged off a cold on his way to the semi-finals, the world No3 outgunned Federer with a hugely powerful performance, much as he did when beating the Swiss to win Olympic gold in August. The inner calm earned by winning his first grand slam title at last month’s US Open is visible in all elements of his game and Federer, probably the greatest player of all time, was a distinct and distant second best.
These are heady days for British tennis. Three weeks after Laura Robson became the first British woman to reach a WTA Tour final since 1990, Heather Watson matched her effort by reaching the final in Osaka. The 20-year-old was due to take on Chang Kai-cheng of Taiwan in the early hours of Sunday morning, trying to become the first British woman to win a singles title since Sara Gomer in 1988.
In final in Shanghai, Murray faces Novak Djokovic, the man he beat in New York. The Serb is in pole position to end the year as No1 and only an injury to the Serb or something spectacular from Federer is likely to deny him his goal.
On Saturday, everything that was spectacular came from Murray as he outplayed Federer with a brand of tennis he is now beginning to produce on a regular basis.
In the first game, the 25-year-old hit three thunderous groundstrokes to break serve, setting the tone for a match in which Federer was on the back foot throughout. He has always maintained that the match is “on his racket” against Murray, that he is the one dictating. Things have changed. At the Olympics, Murray produced a serving masterclass to deny him; on Saturday, it was a series of brilliant returns and groundstrokes that left the maestro reeling.
“I went for it like I did the last few times I played against him,” Murray said. “He didn’t serve that well so I was able to be very aggressive on his second serve. He maybe slowed down his first serve a little bit, so I was able to take a few more chances on the first serve. Obviously that helped.”
Murray leads their meetings 10-8 and there is clearly something about him that gets under Federer’s skin. When Federer wanted to go off in the first game of the second set due to a few spots of rain on the court, Murray looked bemused. Both men knew Federer was struggling for answers.
Murray had won the first set with the purest of hitting, helped by poor serving from Federer, who, having got the early break back, coughed up three straight double faults to drop serve for a second time in the fifth game. Murray saw out the set with relative ease.
That first game of the second set saw Murray push for the kill, but Federer saved seven break points to hold. It might have been a turning point, but from 2–2 and with Federer 40–0 up on serve, Murray reeled off a string of brilliant returns to get the vital break. At 5–4, the players had to wait almost 20 minutes while the roof was closed because of heavier drops of rain, but a nerveless Murray closed out the match.