Print and Go Back ESPNTennis [Print without images]

Thursday, January 28, 2010
Updated: January 30, 1:53 AM ET
Murray displaying flashes of brilliance in Oz

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Andy Murray, the chameleon.

In Tuesday's high-quality quarterfinal against Rafael Nadal, Murray performed arguably the best he ever has. He was aggressive, served big and took it to the ailing Spaniard from the baseline. It's the kind of tennis many fans back home want him to play.

Slam Central

For comprehensive coverage of the U.S. Open, check out Slam Central and stay informed about everything going on in Queens. More »

Thursday's 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 semifinal win over Marin Cilic, which earned him the distinction of becoming the first British man to reach the final here since John Lloyd in 1977, was somewhat different.

Murray reverted to his usual, more comfortable style, mostly sticking behind the baseline and soaking up pressure. Sure, there were exceptions, as you'd expect in any encounter. Murray loosened up considerably in the third and fourth sets as the Croatian, who played three five-setters in the last eight days, tired. And Murray's serve, a subject of debate for as long as the 22-year-old has been a pro, fired again. Anything above 60 percent on first serves is good for Murray, and he clocked in at 62.

That was a huge help.

"It took him a while, but he figured it out," said Lloyd, who now lives in Los Angeles.

Cilic chipped in 59 unforced errors, so it was a pity Croatian television decided to make this match the first it showed over the fortnight, reportedly paying big bucks.

Murray, to his credit, is one of the few players on tour who is good enough to significantly alter his approach day by day and get away with it. After all, in most other sports, you do what you need to in order to win. The fifth seed also pulled off three highlight-reel shots, crucially chasing a lob and spinning to rip a forehand, curling a forehand inside the line when dragged wide, and ripping a forehand cross-court off a splendid Cilic return. Yes, the forehand.

But if Roger Federer was up with Mirka and the twins watching, he wouldn't be overly worried. Should Federer, as expected, overcome Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Friday's other semifinal, the 15-time Grand Slam champion will tangle with Murray on Sunday evening. Once Nadal lost, a Federer-Murray final became the next-best thing.

Federer memorably said after losing to Murray in his second home of Dubai in 2008 that the latter waited for foes to make errors and would have to "grind very hard" over the next years if his style didn't change. Call it a dig rather than constructive criticism.

Whichever approach Murray has employed against Federer hasn't worked lately. Murray fell at the year-end championships in London, crushed in the final two sets, and exited in straights at the Cincinnati Masters. Federer won't unravel the way Cilic did, and unless Friday's clash versus Tsonga is a marathon, the Swiss won't be as jaded, either.

"It will take a special performance to win against him," Murray told reporters.

Murray served at 45 and 51 percent in those defeats. Coincidence, or a case of Murray, whose back is still a little stiff, not being able to step it up when it counts?

"Against Federer, he will have to go up a level, and I think he will," Lloyd said.

We'll see on Sunday.