As Federer and Murray prepare for their 24th professional tennis meeting on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon, opinions fly wildly on who will come forth victorious. It is a compelling rivalry, and one that is largely underrated in light of the more visible ones in men’s tennis (namely Federer-Djokovic, Federer-Nadal and Nadal-Djokovic). Here’s a brief overview of the numbers:
Federer leads their head-to-head meetings 12-11
Federer has a 4-1 record against Murray in Grand Slams
Federer has won their last three meetings (all on hard court)
They each have won one of their two grass court meetings (both in 2012 on Center Court at the All England Club)
However much of this information is misleading. Federer’s victories in their last three meetings were all in 2014, a year Murray struggled due to recovery from back surgery. Murray’s win over Federer on center court came against an obviously fatigued Federer who had struggled through an epic 19-17 third set against del Potro in the semi-finals. The reality is much of the information we would normally use to make judgments about the match is tainted in one way or another.
The Tale of the Tape
So let’s take a quick run-down of their respective strokes and see where the edges lie:
Serve: Federer – Federer has a clear edge in the serve department in both first and second deliveries. His first serve is more dangerous than Murray’s despite their similar speeds. Federer has superior placement, and also makes more of his first serves. Additionally his second serve is faster and heavier than Murray’s – truth be told Murray’s second serve is downright shaky.
Return of Serve: Murray – Murray’s return of serve is far more balanced than Federer’s. Whereas Federer generally attempts to only neutralize the serve to his backhand, Murray is capable of attacking off both wings. While in general both players win a similar number of their opponent’s first serves, Murray has a decided edge in second serve returns.
Forehand: Federer – For all that it isn’t quite the shot it once was, Federer’s forehand remains one of the premier weapons in the sport. Murray’s forehand is a pale shadow in comparison. Federer can and will look to dictate play with his forehand in a manner that Murray cannot.
Backhand: Murray – Although Federer’s backhand slice is a shade better than Murray’s, Murray is clearly stronger when it comes to topspin on the backhand wing. Murray’s two-hander is among the very best in the game at present.
Volleys: Federer – Federer’s volleys have continued to improve under Edberg’s tutelage. While Murray is no slouch at the net either, Federer’s net game is by a fair margin the best among the top 10 at this juncture.
For Federer this match is all about the serve-forehand combination. Look for Federer to use his first serve to set up the forehand, and then use his forehand to dictate play. He will force the issue, coming forward frequently and looking to finish at the net. The longer each rally goes on Federer’s serve, the better Murray’s chances of getting back to neutral in the rally and establishing the cross-court backhand rally. In particular look for Federer to hit his first serve wide on the deuce court, and to serve backhand-body a lot on his second serve in both boxes.
On the return Federer will largely look to neutralize Murray’s serve by redirecting pace on the first, and then look for his opportunities to control the point with the forehand. Expect Federer to ramp up his aggression on the second-serve return, particularly on the backhand. Traditionally he’s been rather passive on this side, but of late he’s been stepping well inside the baseline and taking the backhand return aggressively.
Federer’s got his serve-forehand patterns down pat. The question mark for him is largely going to be how good of a job he does of breaking out of neutral rallies with Murray once they get into the crosscourt backhand exchanges. Federer’s best bet is to play his slice backhand down the line into Murray’s forehand to open up the court. Whether or not he commits to this strategy remains to be seen.
Murray’s success is going to be hugely depending on his first serve percentage. It is doubtful he will, but this is one match where Murray would be well served to add a little extra margin to his first serves and attack the Federer backhand return with a slightly higher (and higher percentage) ball. However what we can expect is for Murray to play his usual counter-attacking brand of tennis. He will largely direct play into Federer’s backhand off the ground, and take advantage of mid-court balls to punish Federer into the forehand side. Murray’s made great decisions with his net play – although he’s come forward far less than Federer he has been more discerning in when to do so. In his 106 net approaches, he’s won 87 points for an 82% success rate.
Murray’s best advantage lies in the cross-court backhand exchange, and it is critical that he capitalize on every second serve opportunity he gets on Federer’s serve. If he fails to win more than 50% of the second serve points on Federer’s serve then his chances of winning the match are dismal. With Federer pressing forward at every opportunity, Murray’s passing shots had best be on as we can’t expect Federer to give up much ground on the overheads.
Keys to the Match:
For a Murray win:
– First Serve % at 58% or above
– Second Serve Return Points above 50%
– Attack the Federer Backhand
– Pass well!
For a Federer win:
– Clean forehand day (not one of his occasional shank-fests)
– Greater than 65% of net points won
– Attacking Murray’s second serve
– Breaking out of the cross-court backhand exchange
Federer’s playing an extremely clean Wimbledon. In the absence of either player having an off day, expect Federer to take this match in 4 sets.