In what was a show-stopping performance by Roger Federer, the 33-year-old dictated proceedings in his Wimbledon semifinal against Andy Murray. The World No. 3 is known as one of the tour’s best returners but despite his reflexes and anticipation, the home-crowd favorite often found himself walking from side to side amidst an onslaught of Federer serves that found their target far too many times to give Murray a look at a break.
Where did Federer serve? What made it so difficult for Murray to read? Did the Swiss have any notable patterns, and were there any moments when Murray had opportunities to make inroads?
All that and more in this set-by-set serve analysis:
In the opening game, Federer faced his only break point of the entire match. Murray was able to steal a couple of points off of the No. 2 seed’s first serve, which hadn’t quite found its spots yet — particularly out wide on the ad side.
As the set progressed, Federer then caught Murray off guard multiple times on the same side by alternating between serve down the tee and out wide — more often than normal by his standards, giving him plenty of cheap points. Of the 25 points he won on serve, 15 were aces or unreturned serves — a testament to how quickly that weapon clicked into gear after a shaky first service game, giving the Swiss as good as a 30-0 lead before he even stepped to the service line.
After serving an astronomical 85 percent in the opener, Federer’s first serve percentage dipped to a decent 62 percent but he didn’t drop a point behind it; much like in the first set, more than 50 percent of his first serves didn’t even get returned, earning him a plethora of cheap points to get him out of potentially tricky spots.
Overall, the set saw him shift a little more towards aiming for the Murray backhand — which yielded him with great success when his first serve found the court.
Ostensibly, Federer seemed to be in free-flow but there were a few small openings for Murray early in the second set. The Swiss had to rely more on his second serve in that phase of the encounter and Murray did win 7 out of 12 return points off of his opponent’s second serve — but never enough within a game to string them into another break point opportunity.
Particularly, Federer’s serve down the middle on the deuce court paid big dividends throughout the match. He fired 10 aces, four alone in the second set.
The final set saw Federer fire his most consistent serving of the match — losing only five points behind serve in total. Three of those points came in the second game of the set when Murray forced the Swiss to deuce — a rarity in this match and the last time he came within two points of breaking the Federer serve.
Aces and unreturned serves
Federer earned a massive 36 “free” points off of his serve in total. Over three sets, that’s as good as a 30-0 quick start into every service game. While the seven-time Wimbledon champion might have only hit one ace out wide on the ad side — the serve most players expect from the Swiss — he barely lost a point behind it after the opening game. His success there often set him up for a volley or an easy put-away in the forecourt.
As many pundits noted, Friday’s match was one of the best and most consistent service performances in a match of this magnitude in a long time. On the deuce side, Federer’s first serve was almost waterproof — only allowing Murray four points over the entire match. Particularly in the first set, the Swiss mixed up his placement to great effect; a key tactic for him was almost lulling Murray into a serve out wide on the ad-side during the first few games, only the switch things up relentlessly as the set was heading towards its conclusion.
The second set painted a similar picture, even if Murray had a look at a few more second serves. During the business end, the World No. 3 survived an epic game at *4-5 to stay in the set, only for Federer to hold within a minute and put the pressure right back onto his opponent.
Murray didn’t play badly at all — when he was given the opportunity to play — but too often Federer’s serve gave him too much of a head start in games for the 27-year-old from Dunblane to even force a look at break points. To make matters worse for Murray, the Swiss didn’t just have a fantastic serving day — he also had a great day all-around, coming up with some inspired shots in the important moments.
Knowing that he’ll face a returner just as good — if not better than Murray in the final — Federer is going to need another stellar day at the line. With the serving rhythm he’s built up over the course of the past few rounds, however, there will a chance he’ll keep it going for another match.