Fed express tramples on Murray's dreams as Swiss star sets up Djokovic clash
22:41 GMT, 11 November 2012
With the 02 Arena festooned as if it had been shifted to somewhere called Basle-on-Thames Andy Murray might have wondered where he was as he stepped out to meet Roger Federer.
And by the time the great Swiss had finished with him he might have wondered what year it was, too, for as their match went on it seemed increasingly we had gone back to the time when Federer ruled the world and Murray was still trying to convert his promise into a Grand Slam title.
The result was a 7-6 6-2 victory in the semi-finals of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, in a contest that became disarmingly one-sided. Murray will have many fantastic memories from 2012 but this will not be one of them.
Contrasting fortunes: Roger Federer jumps for joy as Andy Murray is beaten at the semi-final stage
In the last match of the regular season, Federer will take Novak Djokovic – a 4-6 6-3 6-2 winner over Juan Martin Del Potro – and those of us who have been heralding the Djokovic-Murray axis as the new big thing in tennis will try and digest a little humble pie.
Federer showed the champion's appetite for a scrap and backed it up with fine shot making after a poor start and whatever happens this evening he will be heading into his off-season feeling a little less than his 31 years.
Murray enters that phase of the year on Monday, and in defeat it was not hard for him to find consolation in the events of the last five months. 'If you told me last year that I would be sitting in this position now with the results I've had in the last twelve months I would have signed up for that straightaway,' he said.
Proposition: Federer fans cheer their man on at the O2 in London
'It's been incredibly positive season but obviously I would have loved to finish it with a win. It's been the best year of my career by a mile and I've achieved things I've never done before.'
One of those came in the Olympic final, when he trounced Federer, and it was interesting to note how different Sunday night's atmosphere was to that heady Sunday afternoon in August in the midst of that heady two weeks.
On that day you had never heard a British crowd so supportive of Murray and positively anti-Federer, swept up in Olympic fervour, but it was as if the default position of deep affection for the great Swiss had been reset and that many had forgotten the home player's historic triumphs of 2012.
Murray did not complain that he was afforded less than partisan support, although it hardly augurs well for his chances of winning Sports Personality of the Year, saying 'Whenever you play Roger anywhere in the world he gets great support and he deserves that because of everything that he's achieved.'
Catch me if you can: Federer managed to get nose in front – and stayed there
The febrile atmosphere did not spur Federer to race out of the blocks, far from it, and his forehand was erratic as he gifted the 25 year-old Scot the first break of the match in the very first game, and was fortunate not to go 3-0 down shortly afterwards.
Competitor that he is, Federer fought his way back in and started to profit from his opponent's second serve, coming back from 3-1 down in a tiebreak in which neither man did much wrong until Murray netted a couple of times to conclude it.
The match properly turned at 1-1 in the second set, when Murray got to 40-0 on his serve and then threw in five desperately poor points in succession with ill-executed drop shots to the fore, the manoeuvre he admits can leave him looking like a genius or idiot.
Despair: Murray reflects on his semi-final defeat to Federer
'I started the match well, he came back in and then I played that poor game. He is very tough once he gets ahead, he played very well after that. I didn't think it was an incredibly high standard in terms of the length of the points, a lot of them went quickly,' said Murray, often pressured by the Swiss's judicious net rushes.
The fact that their last two matches had seen Federer lose all five sets was an irrelevance, but then a big difference was that this was indoors and he is the greatest player ever seen in this environment.
Whether that will be enough to see off Djokovic is another matter with the Serb in this mood. He was in deep trouble at a break down in the second set but eventually worked Del Potro out, and you have never beaten the world No 1 until you shake hands.
At full stretch: Murray had chances to make an impression but was unable to convert