Mike Dickson of the Daily Mail summed it up perfectly when he tweeted his reaction to last Thursday’s breaking news that Andy Murray was to play at the Swiss Indoors this week, saying: “That's what you call parking your tanks on Roger's lawn.”
Federer’s home city of Basle may not have been Murray’s first-choice destination this week, but after his request for a wild card in Valencia, where he was the singles champion in 2009 and won the doubles title with his brother Jamie last year, was, bizarrely, turned down, the Scot is instead in Switzerland to play the last of his four mandatory ATP 500 events in 2011.
His appearance here this week has further boosted an already stellar line-up, with Federer and world No.1 Novak Djokovic also competing. It is undoubtedly one of the most prestigious 500 tournaments, with previous champions including Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg.
Murray has not played in this north-western corner of Switzerland since he reached the quarter-finals in 2005. That was the tournament in which Murray beat Tim Henman in the first round, a significant victory which was then billed in Britain as the “changing of the guard”.
Six years on, Murray is a different prospect altogether, and it is he who comes into this tournament as the second seed and the in-form player on tour. He has won all 15 matches he has played since the US Open, but faces a tough task if he is to keep the winning streak going this week as the draw has not been kind.
Murray’s opening first-round match this afternoon pits him against Robin Haase, the world No.40, who he knows only too well after being two sets to love down in their last encounter in the second round of the US Open.
Murray fought back to win the match in five that day, but he will not be afforded such an opportunity today if Haase is to win the first two sets of this best-of-three set encounter.
The good news for Murray is that the Center Court is not as fast as previous years – Federer reckons “it is a touch slower” – and that should help his cause against the big-hitting Dutchman, who has only won one match in five since that match at Flushing Meadows.
Murray would then face home-favourite Stanislas Wawrinka in the second-round tomorrow, before a potential quarter-final meeting on Friday with Serbian Janko Tipsarevic, who currently sits at a career-high ranking of No.13 having recently won tournaments in Kuala Lumpur and Moscow and finished runner-up in St. Petersburg last week.
It is not, by any means, an easy task for Murray to reach the semi-finals, but he should still be confident as he comes here in great shape and with more momentum than any other player on tour at present.
Murray said: ““Someone like Novak will tell you, when you’ve got momentum you want to keep playing.
“Right now I feel better than I did at this stage last year. My body has held up better and that’s something I need to try and keep going for the next few years because it will hopefully add a year or two onto the end of my career if I can look after my body well like someone like Roger has done.
“I have played well recently. At this stage of the season, everybody has niggles that you have to stay on top of, so you can’t expect to be 100 per cent fit. But the advantage I have of playing in Asia is that I will have played some more matches and that always helps when you are match fit.”
A potential semi-final meeting with Federer in his own backyard on Saturday has the makings of a classic. The fact that Murray has also recently moved ahead of the Swiss in the rankings to No.3 also adds more intrigue.
Federer looked rusty in his opening match against Potito Starace on Monday night, but that is to be expected after a break of six weeks.
It is this break which left the door open for Murray to become the new world No.3, but Federer has insisted this week that he is not overly concerned about his demotion to No.4, his lowest ranking since July 2003.
Federer said: “I don’t even know what it takes to regain the No.3 position. My goal is to try and win when I am playing in the next few weeks.
“The focus right now is trying to play well here in Basel. And if I’m three or four at the end of the year, we’ll see, but if I’m going to make a move I need to win tournaments and that’s what it’s going to take.”
Djokovic was also similarly rusty in his first-round match against Xavier Malisse, which he eventually came through in three sets. Again, though, the Serb has also had a six week break from tennis due to a back injury which he said was the worst injury of his career and he has only started serving again in the last few days.
Expect his rhythm to build as the week goes on, though. After the early exits of Viktor Troicki, Tomas Berdych and Mardy Fish, there are no seeds remaining in his half and he may not be fully tested until he potentially meets either Murray or Federer in the final.
Murray is the only one of the top four singles seeds to also compete in the doubles this week and he teams up with brother Jamie once again after their success in Tokyo last month. It’s a big week for Jamie with 500 points to defend after their success in Valencia last year, but a tough opener awaits later today, following the conclusion of Andy’s singles match, against second seeds Max Mirnyi, of Belarus, and Canadian Daniel Nestor.
Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins also play their first 500 event together here this week, which comes on the back of their success in St. Petersburg. The British pair have received a kinder draw than their counterparts as they play the Swiss wild card pairing of Stephane Bohli and Marco Chiudinelli tomorrow.