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MELBOURNE, Australia -- Roger Federer, gunning for a record-extending 16th major, and Andy Murray, seeking to get on the board, meet in an absorbing Australian Open final Sunday.
Murray has the edge in their head-to-heads, 6-4, although he lost the 2008 U.S. Open final.
Here are three reasons each has a chance at glory:
Experience: Federer has been there and done that. He has appeared in 18 of the past 19 Grand Slam finals, the only exception being the 2005 Australian Open. His conquerors have been Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro, both more aggressive than Murray. Federer won't be affected by nerves and thus stutter at the start. Given how good a front-runner the Swiss is, an early lead is bad news for Murray. Murray benefits from having played in a Grand Slam final, but that was two years ago. Sizzling at Masters events is different from doing it when it really counts, especially when all of Britain expects a victory.
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Aggressive game: Federer said in his press conference Friday evening that a bunch of his losses against Murray resulted because he didn't play well, making too many unforced errors. Sour grapes that may be, but he's right. If Federer executes his attacking game plan, Murray is in trouble. It's even more the case should Murray decide to sit back and soak up pressure rather than go on the offensive himself, like he did impressively against Nadal in the quarterfinals. Murray hasn't served well in his past two outings against Federer. A repeat performance and Federer picks on those second serves to make it three in a row against the Scot.
Motivation: He has already surpassed Pete Sampras' haul of majors and is a father to twin girls, but Federer wants Slam No. 16 and much more. "Being back in a Grand Slam final is always an amazing thrill for me," he told reporters. "I spent three weeks [in Australia], and I don't want to just give away a match." Apart from adding to his glittering résumé, a win would inflict more psychological damage on Murray, one of the chasing pack. Murray claims he gets on "well" with Federer. The latter might have a different view considering the shots he took at Murray on Friday.
Patience: Murray is extremely talented. He can do almost anything with the ball, has tremendous court coverage and his passing shots are outstanding. Murray troubles Federer by getting a ton of balls back and extending backhand-to-backhand rallies. Although Federer might not look as uncomfortable hitting a backhand against Murray as he does versus Nadal, he'll be the first to crack in those exchanges. Murray needs to play a little more offensive than usual, mind you, to keep Federer off balance. He can't wait for Federer to miss. That's a risky game plan and one out of his control.
Fresh legs: Federer got a helping hand from the schedule-makers when he faced Murray in New York. Murray didn't have a day off between his breakthrough semifinal win over Nadal and the final, a recipe for disaster. Apart from not being able to recover physically, he didn't have time to refocus. It was over quickly. No such problems here. Murray has one more day of rest than Federer. "Physically I'm going to be a lot fresher," Murray told reporters Saturday. He's been watching movies and sitcoms to pass the time.
He's due: It's about time Murray wins a Slam. He's probably the best player out there -- on either tour -- without one. Murray has always maintained he'll play his best tennis starting at 23, and he's only 3½ months shy of that. As Nadal said after he was crushed by Murray here, "I think he deserves to win his first Grand Slam, and he's gonna do it." Murray has beefed up; is as fit as anyone on the circuit; the serve is generally improving, slowly but surely; and he's more mature than he was two years ago.