The 2013 Australian Open is history but I don’t feel like it being history just yet. When I made my post match write up of the Federer/Murray match I didn’t analyze the very interesting 4th set properly, because I fell asleep at that stage of the match. I did however write about it in my follow up post. After that post Vily posted the following Youtube video in a comment:
I really appreciated that because it showed pretty much everything I missed, and the post match highlights did a terrible job of the 4th set. For one they didn’t show that Roger got broken at 5-5 and that Murray served for the match at 6-5. I felt like making a post about this set with the Australian Open still fresh in our memory, and because it was probably the most interesting set in the match, if not the tournament(although I’m sure Djokovic and Wawrinka would have something to say about that). It was a somewhat controversial set because of that incident where Roger psyched Murray. That was also the turning point of the set. The highlights begin at 4-4 where Murray plays an unreal defensive point and a ridiculous lob to go up 15-0 on Roger’s serve. Roger then nets a forehand to go down 0-30. Now he is under pressure.
He hits his way out of trouble with some attacking forehands however and ends up holding serve. 5-4. Can Roger break serve to win the 4th set? Not even close. Murray holds serve to love and the pressure is back on Roger. He then goes down 0-30 on serve again, but this time there is no fightback as he gets broken to love. I actually remember falling asleep right as this point. I was really struggling to stay awake now, and when he dropped serve there I was almost certain it was over. That is what makes this such a remarkable set, because Roger found a way to come back into the set and the match. Yes, not everyone likes how he did it. But the fact remains: it worked. I’m not gonna choose sides here. I’m gonna play the role of the reporter here. You can decide for yourself whether what he did was ok or not.
All I’m gonna say is that psyching has always been part of professional sports. It is not against the rules. Besides, it is not like Roger does this all the time. I can just speak for myself. For me it was ok. He has psyched Murray in the press before, like for instance before their Australian Open final in 2010. It clearly had an effect on Murray because Roger won in straight sets. Even in the 3rd set when Murray came the closest to winning a set, he looked scared and became defensive. How different is that Murray from the one Roger faced here?! It’s like a boy became a man. However, since Roger used these kind of tactics to get under Murray’s skin before, it was worth another go. It was the only way he was going to win the set anyway. Murray was serving for the match and he had to do something drastic if things were going to turn around.
It is just the winning instinct. In professional sports you do what you gotta do to win, within the rules of the sport of course. Psyching is not against the rules. Mental warfare was always a part of tennis. It used to be much worse. In recent years the players have become a bit more professional and ‘soft’. But there is no doubt it is still out there. I don’t mind it personally. I find it entertaining. Now people may accuse me of having double standards because I have criticized a lot of Nadal’s mind games. To that I say that I don’t like the way Nadal uses mind games. I don’t like it because he uses it all the time, while Roger uses it only as last resort. Against Murray he knew it was his last throw of the dice, and it worked. For Nadal mind games start at the coin toss when he makes his opponent wait for him at the net and then jumps up and down in front of him at the net.
Roger usually makes his racquet do the talking. He only uses psyching when his racquet failed him, which is very seldom indeed. Nadal also uses time wasting, coaching from the stands, and injury time outs to unnerve his opponents, the first two of which is illegal. Taking injury time outs at crucial junctures in the match when it is not needed should be illegal as well, but I guess the umpires let it go, just like they do with the time wasting and coaching from the stands. You see Nadal is always bending the rules, and in some cases blatantly breaking them. Roger does not do that. He is a very fair player. He was clearly trying to psyche Murray and wasn’t trying to make any secret of it. There are also no rules that I am aware of against psyching. He just did something which has been done for ages in professional tennis.
It all happened on the first point of the game as Murray served for the match. Roger hit a deep backhand drive cross court that must have been on the line. It is hardly noticeable but Murray hesitated for a split second about the call that didn’t come. He continued with the point, Roger hit a forehand approach, and got passed down the line by Murray. That was the point at which the incident occurred. You don’t see much of it in the video, but Roger tells Murray something along the lines of ‘Fucking stop!’ or ‘You fucking stopped!’. Murray first reacts like a kid whose favorite toy was just confiscated. Then his expression changes to ‘Oh, so that’s the way it’s gonna be’, which is not shown in the video either. Even though Murray pulls that face the incident clearly affected him. On the next point he misses a strange slice backhand long from an attacking position in the court.
Roger smells blood. Murray however comes up with a well placed slice serve and goes up 30-15. Roger is now only two points from exiting the slam. Murray then comes up with another well placed slice serve but Roger makes a great stretch return to get him back in the point. Roger continues to play a terrific point to even things up at 30-30. Now he is only two points away from being back in the match. The next point is just gorgeous as Roger makes two fantastic defensive shots and then comes up with a scorcher of a backhand winner down the line. Just an absolute beauty. Break point! Murray then comes up with a first serve and Roger hits a a kind of reflex backhand slice return which catches Murray off guard, as he steers the forehand wide. Break! Roger is now right back in it and the momentum is on his side after making the great escape.
Almost expectedly Murray then kind of implodes in the tie break. Roger also hits one monster return of serve as if to rub it in. He had gotten into Murray’s head once again. There was no doubt about it. Was it the turning point in the match? I bet it was the question on many people’s minds. It certainly would have been my guess if I was still awake. But Murray quickly puts the incident behind him and Roger seemed to be spent. It was a sure sign that Murray had matured as a player. He wasn’t gonna let that incident cost him the match, even though it had already cost him a set. It would have been easy for him to get into a negative mindset after that incident, but it is like he just forgot about it when the 5th set started. So you gotta hand it to him. From Roger’s point of view he showed great fight to win the fourth set after he looked down and out.
The way in which he fought back may seem questionable to some, but as far as I’m concerned it was perfectly legitimate and within the rules of the sport and it’s traditions. It’s not like he committed a crime people! This is sport and you do what you gotta do to win within the rules. Simple as that. Well I hope you enjoyed that little trip down memory lane with me. I am now ready to put this Australian Open well and truly behind me. It was a very positive tournament from Roger’s point of view and I have high hopes for him in 2013. He has as good a chance to win another slam as anyone. We have already been having some interesting discussions about the French Open on my blog. Just because Roger is not playing a tournament doesn’t mean this blog is going to sleep!