From Wall Street Journal
By TOM PERROTTA
There was no surprise, no celebration, no look of disbelief. Andy Murray had just beaten Roger Federer at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time, and it all seemed so…normal.
In Melbourne Friday evening, Murray confirmed the new order in tennis, with Novak Djokovic at the top, Murray close behind and Federer, who will turn 32 this year, and the injured Rafael Nadal several steps behind—and struggling to keep up. Murray can move even closer to the top if he defeats Djokovic, the world's No. 1 player, in Sunday's Australian Open final. (ESPN, 3 a.m. ET)
Andy Murray and Roger Federer in the men's semifinal of the Australian Open on Friday.
Murray, 25, had a breakthrough season in 2012. It started with a semifinal run—and a grueling, five-set, nearly five-hour loss to Djokovic—in Melbourne, followed by his first final at Wimbledon, where he lost to Federer. A month later, Murray beat Federer in the gold medal match at the London Olympic Games and then won the U.S. Open by defeating Djokovic in the final.
The most impressive aspect of Murray's 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-2 victory over Federer: From the first point, he looked like he expected to win, and when things went wrong, he kept plugging away rather than muttering, mouthing off and imploding, as he might have a few years ago.
"You want to be excited, but you don't want to go overly crazy," Federer said. "It seems like he has more peace when he plays out there."
And more weapons. Murray played well enough to win every set and actually served for the match in the fourth set. He hit more winners, more forehand winners and more aces than Federer and had fewer errors. Remember the player who reacted to his opponents and used their power and angles against them? He's still there, but only when Murray the pacesetter—the one who bruises opponents with his serve and forehand, like his coach, Ivan Lendl, used to do—has no time or room to operate.
Murray pushed Federer around and caused him to scoff and swear several times during the match, including one outburst directed at Murray (both players brushed it off after the match). To stay in the match, Federer had to take too many risks and play too brilliantly. It was unsustainable.
Murray's transformation under Lendl's tutelage has been much remarked upon. The best way to sum it up is: Murray no longer fools around in matches. The old Murray would try fancy shots at the wrong times and seemed too concerned with style points. This Murray tries to win points—all of them—and nothing more.
"The only thing you can do is play the right way, go for your shots when the opportunity's there, and hope that it pays off," Murray said.
It sounds easy, but it took Murray and Djokovic years to master it as Federer and Nadal piled up major title after major title. Djokovic, who is a week younger than Murray, came into his own in 2011, when he won three Grand Slam titles. Now that Murray has arrived too, men's tennis—blessed now for almost a decade—has much to look forward to.
Federer versus Nadal always offered contrast: Offense versus defense, righty versus lefty, pace versus spin. Djokovic and Murray have more in common, so their battles are defined by pain and elasticity. They will run, stretch and lunge for hours—all the while snapping back from defense to offense. As Andre Agassi, who will present the trophy in Melbourne to Sunday's winner, said of the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic-Murray era, "You never know when they're behind in a point."
Or for that matter, in a match, especially with Djokovic. In the fourth round, he won a five-hour, five-set match against Stanislas Wawrinka after trailing 6-1, 5-2. Since then, Djokovic has looked more and more formidable. (He lost five games in the semifinals against No. 4 seed David Ferrer.)
Last year's U.S. Open final was a wobbly affair with lots of errors and momentum swings. Murray won the first two sets, Djokovic the next two, and Murray the final one. He had never won a major before and his nerves were on display throughout the match. Djokovic, in contrast, looked tired from a long season that saw him fail to defend his Wimbledon title and lose his first French Open final. "It wasn't the prettiest tennis," Murray said.
This time should be different. Djokovic has waited a year for another major and he's coming off one of the most clinical performances of his career. Murray is playing like a man making up for lost time. Most important of all: There's no doubt anymore that these two men are the best in the game. They both know it—and they expect to play accordingly.
Write to Tom Perrotta at firstname.lastname@example.org