Wawrinka Edges Murray In Thriller To Reach Final
Swiss star chasing second Roland Garros crown
The Swiss will look to win his second Roland Garros crown when he faces either nine-time champion Rafael Nadal or Dominic Thiem in Sunday’s final. Wawrinka won the clay-court major in 2015, beating Novak Djokovic, and also counts triumphs at the 2014 Australian Open and 2016 US Open in his major haul.
"I'm really happy to be in the final," said Wawrinka. "I think it was quite a tough match today. A big battle. I want to enjoy it a lot, because, as I say, it's not all the time you can say you're going to play a final of a Grand Slam, especially in Paris. I really want to enjoy that."
By reaching the final in Paris, Wawrinka is guaranteed to go to No. 3 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, meaning Djokovic will slip to No. 4. Should he win the title, he would go to a new career-high No. 2.
It was sweet revenge for Wawrinka, who was beaten in the semi-finals of his title defence last year by Murray, who would go on to lose to Djokovic in the final. That they were both in the semi-finals again was testament to the level of tennis they were able to produce after underwhelming results on the clay coming in.
"I came in playing garbage,” joked Murray, whose best result had been the semi-finals in Barcelona (l. to Thiem). While Wawrinka had begun to hit top gear just the week before Roland Garros, banishing memories of early losses in Madrid and Rome by winning his home title in Geneva (d. M. Zverev).
But they both delivered their finest tennis in front of an enthralled Philippe Chatrier Crowd in a match lasting four hours and 34 minutes, and decided, fittingly, with the 87th winner from Wawrinka’s racquet. The story of the match could be seen quite simply from the winners-unforced error stats: 87-77 for Wawrinka, 36-36 for Murray.
"For sure it was amazing match I felt on the court," said Wawrinka. "I enjoyed playing this match. For sure when you win it's better after. We had some crazy points with some good rallies, with some good level of tennis. And to play a semi-final here, at the French Open against Andy, No. 1 in the world, that's something really special, so for sure I enjoy it."
"I'm proud of the tournament I had," said Murray. "I did well considering. I was one tie-break away from getting to the final when I came in really struggling. So I have to be proud of that.
"Maybe the lack of matches hurt me a little bit in the end today. That was a very high intensity match. A lot of long points. When you haven't been playing loads, over four-and-a-half hours, that can catch up to you a little bit. I only have myself to blame for that, for the way I played coming into the tournament.
"But I turned my form around really, really well and ended up having a good tournament, all things considered."
Murray, contesting the Roland Garros semi-finals for the fifth time, used every ounce of his guile and defensive skills to sneak the opener. It was a set Wawrinka will know he should have won. The Swiss served for it at 5-3, and held a set point in the tie-break, but his go-for-broke play proved his undoing as well as his weapon, as his unforced error count mounted, due in no small part to Murray's phenomenal defence.
After thwarting Wawrinka's bid to serve for the set in the ninth game, Murray then edged a nervy tie-break, which saw both players squander leads. Murray twice had a mini-break advantage, but neither time managed to build on his lead. The Dunblane native came in behind his first serve at 5/5, but it was Wawrinka who won the game of cat and mouse at the net to earn his first set point. The Swiss failed to convert, though, as he fired a backhand into the net - one of 23 unforced errors he committed in the set, compared to just 10 from Murray. Murray then seized his own set point opportunity, steering the point his way with a brave backhand topspin lob in the wind, and sealed the opener as Wawrinka dumped a forehand return into the net.
But the 2015 Roland Garros champion would not be cowed. Wawrinka struck back in the second set, keeping Murray under constant pressure with a continuing barrage of shots. The 32-year-old Swiss brought his unforced errors down to 15 for the set, and fired rockets from the baseline to keep Murray scrambling. Murray dug himself out of a nine-plus minute game at 2-2, saving a break point, but he could not keep Wawrinka at bay in the seventh game. Feeling the pressure, Murray double faulted to go down 0/40 and could only watch on as Wawrinka rifled a backhand winner to seal the break.
This time, Wawrinka made no mistake with his lead. The Lausanne native went after Murray’s serve again in the ninth game and secured the set at the first opportunity, firing a forehand winner off the return to level the match.
Commentating for Eurosport, John McEnroe remarked that Murray was “paralysed” in the face of the explosiveness and pace coming off Wawrinka’s racquet, and the Scot appeared flat at the start of the third set as Wawrinka raced to a 3-0 lead.
Murray stopped the run of seven games against him as he dug in to hold serve, though, and he seized his opportunity as Wawrinka’s level dipped in the following game to get the break back. In a set that would swing both ways, Wawrinka again went up a break to lead 4-2, but Murray once more hit back. It seems likely Wawrinka would have scored yet another break in the eighth game, were it not for some improvised defence from Murray at key moments, including a half-volley lob at 15/15.
Having held for 4-4, Murray might have rued two missed break points in the following game as his trusty backhand return temporarily deserted him at 15/40. But the Scot responded well to hold for 5-5 and then scrapped his way to the decisive service break in the 11th game. After Paris’ take on the Mexican Wave, the Scot was able to serve out the third set.
Following five service breaks in the third set, neither player created a break point chance in the fourth, which was ultimately decided in another tie-break. Despite Murray’s high level throughout the set, the Scot was made to rue an ill-executed drop shot at 2/3. It was all the opening Wawrinka needed. Roared on by the Parisian crowd, the Swiss reeled off the following three points, including an explosive forehand return winner on set point.
Wawrinka did not look back in the fifth set. Almost unstoppable, the Swiss surged into a double-break lead. Murray tried to fire himself up and stem the momentum against him, but it was to no avail as Wawrinka broke again. Murray held off defeat momentarily with a break in the sixth game, but succumbed in the following game as Wawrinka rifled a backhand winner up the line.