DUBAI // The last time Andy Murray played Roger Federer, it was a first-round match in 2008. The Scot was ranked a modest No 11 in the world at the time and Federer was the No 1, winner of 12 grand slams and a four-time champion at the Aviation Club.
“I turned up on the day they did the draw, and they’re like, ‘You’re playing Roger in the first round’,” Murray said on Friday night. “A lot of the guys were coming up to me and saying, ‘Nice draw’.”
Two years earlier, at the Cincinnati Masters of 2006, Murray handed Federer one of his rare defeats, yet not many would have fancied his chances against the defending champion. But an inspired Murray fought back from a set down to stun the fan favourite 6-7, 6-3, 6-4.
“He’s got a very good record here; he likes the surface, so it was a huge win for me,” Murray said. “I think after Dubai that year I went on to do pretty well in Indian Wells and Miami.”
The confidence from that win showed in his performance on the hard courts of Indian Wells and Miami. Murray clinched the title at Cincinnati and Madrid Masters that year and reached the final of the US Open.
He is hoping for a similar boost now after blowing off Novak Djokovic, the reigning world No 1 and three-time defending champion, with a blistering 6-2, 7-5 win in the semi-final on Friday evening. It was the year’s first defeat for the Serb, who was 70-6 in 2011, winning three grand slams and a record five Masters 1000 titles.
“Roger beat him once [last year] and Rafa [Rafael Nadal] lost to him a lot of times last year and at the start of this year,” Murray said after his 88-minute conquest. “So it’s not been easy for guys to win against him.
“I’m glad that I managed to win against him. It will do the confidence no harm, that’s for sure.”
There was no talk of revenge, but Murray did mention their epic Australian Open semi-final from five weeks ago. The Scot was leading two sets to one and had break points at five-all in the fourth, but eventually lost in four hours and 50 minutes. In earlier years, such a loss would have weighed heavily on his mind, but this is a tougher, new Murray.
“That’s [mental toughness] something that I tried to improve a lot last year, especially a lot after the Indian Wells Miami period,” Murray said. “I struggled, and it took a lot of hard work and courage, I think, to come back and have the year that I did. It wasn’t an easy period for me.
“So, I’ve also had a lot of tough losses in my career too. To come back from them hasn’t always been that easy. I think it’s big for me that after Australia this year, I’ve come back and had a win like tonight.
“Hopefully, that will set me up well for the year. Like I said, confidence in tennis and almost any individual sport is so important. A win like tonight will do that no harm; therefore, mentally I’m sure I’ll be stronger.”
Murray also got his wish of playing Federer in Saturday’s final. The Swiss prevailed 7-6, 7-6 over Juan Martin Del Potro to make his seventh final in Dubai. Murray has an impressive 8-6 record against Federer, but they have not played against each other since the 2010 World Tour Finals.
“You don’t get a chance to play against guys like him [Federer] that often,” Murray said. “I like to play against the top, top guys. Not that Del Potro isn’t, but I like playing against Roger because it’s a good opportunity for me.
“I’m sure when I finish playing, they’re the matches you look back on and see how you got on against them and remember them well.”