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There are certain qualities that distinguish champions from challengers. One of those that tend to stand out is the ability to win matches even when you are not playing your best. For the better part of the first two sets of today's Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Andy Murray, the young Scot appeared to have the legendary Swiss' number. Federer was overpowered, outhussled and simply over run by a hungry Murray, who barely put a foot wrong. After going an early set down, Federer hung on for dear life late in the second, and when the opportunity presented itself, snuck in a late break, winning four points in a row to level the match at a set apiece despite having been decidedly second best.
Despite the setback though, Murray competed bravely in the third, slipping and sliding, but the momentum had certainly shifted. And when Federer clawed a decisive break in an epic 20 minute game midway through the third, the match was suddenly on the Swiss' racquet, as he belied his 30 years to cruise to an incredible 7th Wimbledon and 17th Grand Slam title in four sets, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.
With the hopes of an entire nation resting solely on his shoulders it was Andy Murray who was expected to cave in to the pressure in the early games of the opening set. However, it was the mighty Swiss, who was looking to defy history in his 8th Wimbledon Final, who succumbed to the initial jitters, dropping serve in the very first game of the match courtesy some uncharacteristic forehand errors. On the other hand, the Brit looked firm and determined, hitting groundstrokes with authority and in the process taking the game to the legend.
Nevertheless, Federer managed to overcome the initial poor patch of play to break back the world no.4 with some scintillating winners to get back on level terms. In the 8th game, which proved to be the most decisive game of the set, the Dunblane native managed to survive a Federer onslaught in a rather protracted game, seeing off 5 deuces and 2 break points, to even proceedings at 4-all. Murray carried that confidence into the following game, earning the critical break, drawing errors from the Swiss' racquet to give himself the opportunity to serve for the set, which he did with minimum fuss, to bag the first set in 57 minutes.
After a couple of long opening service games to kickstart the second set, the match settled into an easy pattern with both men holding serve comfortably to keep things on an even keel. Murray had pulled out a page from the Djokovic play-book, attacking Federer with some raw pace to keep the 6-time champion on the backfoot. The Briton's serve was also working to perfection, and even though the set was progressing on serve, one felt that Murray was ahead on points.
Murray got his chance in the 9th game as Federer's 11th unforced error from his forehand wing was immediately followed by another poor error from his backhand, but the young Brit fluffed the chance by pulling the trigger too early and going long with a backhand. Federer saved another break point, virtually a set point, to hold serve for a 5-4 lead.
The set looked certain to be headed for a tiebreak as Federer just about barely managed to hold, while Murray was cruising through his service games. However, at 6-5, 30-0, a couple of errors gave the champion an opportunity to steal the set, and he did so with a spectacular drop volley, snatching a set away from the young challenger, which he was never really in a position to win.
Federer took the momentum of the 2nd set into the 3rd, racing through his initial service game to get his nose ahead. Nevertheless, the crowd favorite was able to put a halt to the "Federer Express" recovering from a spot of bother to level proceedings at 1-1. In the next game, the rains decided to add some history of their own suspending play when Federer was leading 40-love to make this the first ever Wimbledon final to be played under the roof.
The big question was whether the rains would arrest the late Federer surge. However, it appeared to do nothing to unsettle the Swiss' unerring rhythm with the world no.3 breaking Murray's serve in an almost-eternally long 6th game which lasted 20 minutes. Some breathtaking shots from the racquet of the great Swiss and the Brit's inability to keep his emotions under check at the crucial points helped Federer nick ahead in the contest. The legend held his way throughout the rest of the set, rounding off proceedings with his 9th ace to jump to a 2 sets to 1 lead in just under 50 minutes.
The fourth set was being played at a considerably quicker pace than the previous few, and that crucial break once again came Federer's way in the 5th game, Murray had a chance at 15-30 to push for a break right back, but an errant groundstroke with Federer stranded at the net, rescued the Swiss and allowed him to hang on. The match stayed tight till the very end with Murray getting a good look at a second serve at 30-30 in Federer's next service game, but Murray pulled an easy forehand wide again.
A game later the championship was on Federer's racquet, and the Swiss Maestro had to earn every point as Murray refused to give in, but when a running forehand from the Briton whizzed just wide, Federer collapsed overcome with emotion on a court he can well and truly call his own.
The legendary Swiss joins Pete Sampras on the top of the Wimbledon sweepstakes with 7 titles, and given his return to form, who can say he doesn't have another in him in the future. The win also catapults Federer to the top of the ATP Tour rankings.
For Murray, one can only say it was a valiant effort, and given the way he played in the first two sets, he was a very much deserving finalist. One can take a safe punt that this will probably be the first of many Wimbledon finals for the Briton, and there is no doubt he will one day break the British jinx and add his name to the record books as the Champion.
The superstars of the tennis world stay on in London, and will return to these grass courts at Wimbledon in three weeks time for the Olympics. Federer, of course will be chasing his maiden Singles Gold Medal, and who is to say it won't be a double triumph for the Champion Swiss in a month's time.
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