By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) – Stan Wawrinka produced another sublime display of attacking tennis to break down Andy Murray’s formidable defenses and reach the French Open final on Friday, twice coming from a set down to win a nerve-jangling contest 6-7(6) 6-3 5-7 7-6(3) 6-1.
The Swiss 2015 champion hit a staggering 87 winners as he avenged last year’s semi-final defeat by the world number one to set up a showdown with nine-times champion Rafa Nadal.
Murray absorbed everything Wawrinka threw at him for most of the four hour and 34 minute contest but after winning a tense fourth set, Wawrinka steamed ahead in the decider as the Briton’s game finally buckled.
The third seed, at 32 the oldest man to reach the Roland Garros final since a 33-year-old Niki Pilic finished runner-up in 1973, was sometimes flummoxed by Murray’s knack of retrieving lost causes but never lost faith.
Wawrinka had not lost a set on the way to the semis and was a touch unlucky to lose the first and third sets on Friday.
But despite Murray’s heroics, he ran out a deserved winner.
“There are two ways of seeing things and I chose to be positive, knowing that I was dominating,” said Wawrinka, who has won the three grand slam finals he has contested.
“It was an amazing match. I enjoyed it. But for sure when you win it’s better.”
Murray, who arrived in Paris on the back of a woeful claycourt season, said he had run out of power but was still proud of his showing which sets him up nicely for Wimbledon.
“I’m proud of the tournament I had. I did well considering. I was one tiebreak away from getting to the final,” said the Scot, who was runner-up to Novak Djokovic last year.
“When I came here I was really struggling. I turned my form around really well and ended up having a good tournament.”
Murray, who also owns three grand slam titles, made only one unforced error in the first seven games as he went into lockdown mode. He suffered a meltdown in the eighth, though, and Wawrinka pounced to steal his serve.
POINT OF THE TOURNAMENT
Murray broke straight back to eventually force a tiebreak that featured a couple of scintillating exchanges that would be in the running for the ‘point of the tournament’.
Wawrinka moved to set point with a backhand volley after a close-quarters rally at the net but put a backhand into the net as Murray leveled for 6-6.
On the following point, the Scot was forced to defend again and he turned the rally around with a jaw-dropping defensive lob before finishing the point with a forehand winner.
The Swiss then netted a forehand as Murray bagged the opening set.
Wawrinka did not dwell on that setback and earned three break points in the seventh game of the second set, converting the first with a trademark backhand winner down the line.
Murray could not hold his following service game either, and a sublime inside-out forehand gave Wawrinka the second set.
A seven-game winning streak put Wawrinka 3-0 ahead in the third but Murray regained his composure to break back, only for Wawrinka again to move 4-2 in front.
Scrapping like a dog Murray hit back again and then pulled off a decisive break for 6-5, holding to take the lead in the match when a red-faced Wawrinka netted a backhand.
The fourth set went with serve, Wawrinka always just ahead, but the Swiss played a superb tiebreak, winning a brutal rally at 4-3, then capitalising on a rare Murray error before walloping away a forehand return winner.
Murray looked spent as the decider began and Wawrinka was merciless as he marched to victory to level his grand slam record against Murray to 3-3 with yet another backhand winner.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Martyn Herman and Pritha Sarkar)