Stan Wawrinka became the oldest Roland Garros finalist in 44 years after defeating Andy Murray 6-7 (3), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-1 in the semi-finals on Friday.
The Swiss, who won the French Open title in 2015, dug deep during the four-hour 34-minute affair to get the better of the world No1 and avenge his loss to Murray at the same stage last year.
There were shades of his 2015 triumph as Wawrinka stepped up physically and mentally to extinguish the Murray challenge.
He paid tribute to the Paris crowd that supported him throughout the marathon showdown.
The first set was a tug of war and the pair were on even ground until Wawrinka drew first blood in game eight. He ran down a Murray drop shot, pulled off some great reflexes before finding the forehand pass for a break and a 5-3 lead.
His advantage was brief though as Wawrinka failed to serve out the set, gifting Murray the break back as the set headed to a breaker.
There was more Wawrinka magic in the tiebreak as he once again won a contest with Murray at the net.
But it was the world No1 who kept his focus to clinch a 68-minute opening set.
Once again, it was Wawrinka who made the first move in the second set. He had chances in the fifth game but Murray squeezed out a service hold in a nine-minute game for 3-2. Wawrinka got his break though two games later and consolidated for a 5-3 lead.
The Swiss got his first set point on the Murray serve in game nine and leveled the match with a powerful return winner.
Wawrinka won his seventh game on the trot to open up a 3-0 gap in the third set, as he started to unleash his backhand with maximum effect. Murray finally stopped the bleeding the following game to hold, then got a break point for a chance to strike back. And the Scot was back in it as he out-rallied Wawrinka to cut his deficit to 2-3.
But the 2015 champion had other ideas. He broke again but the break-fest continued as Murray pegged Wawrinka back one more time.
Murray finally held serve to even the set at 4-all.
A horrendous volley from Wawrinka saw the No3 seed fall behind 0-40 and Murray broke for a 6-5 lead on his second opportunity.
The 30-year-old managed to serve it out for a two-sets-to-one advantage over Wawrinka as the match clock passed the three-hour mark.
Both players upped the ante in the seventh game of the fourth set. Murray unleashed a forehand passing shot winner to put pressure on Wawrinka.
But Wawrinka fired up the crowd with a blistering down-the-line forehand pass to retaliate and hold for 4-3.
The set went to a tiebreak and Wawrinka sent the crowd roaring as he forced a decider with a thunderous forehand return winner.
Wawrinka raced to a 5-0 lead in the fifth but missed a volley to get broken while serving for the match. But that only delayed the inevitable as Murray sent a forehand long to face two match points on his own serve.
And the Swiss sealed it the only way he knows how, with a signature backhand down-the-line winner to reach the fourth Grand Slam final of his career. He is 3-0 in major finals.
“He played obviously better in that (fifth) set. I lost a little bit of speed on my serve which wasn’t allowing me to dictate many points on my own serve. Yeah, that was it,” said Murray, who was a runner-up in Paris last season.
“I mean, he obviously hit some greats shots in the fifth, but, you know, I didn’t keep the score close enough to sort of put him under pressure.”
Murray had a 0-30 half chance when he was down 0-3 in the fifth. He feels a break there could have perhaps turned things around for him but then the set went away from his grasp way too fast.
“Physically I didn’t feel my best at the end. It is more like I didn’t have enough weight on my shot at the end of the match to, you know, to put him under any real pressure,” admits Murray.
“So a lot of the points he was dictating from the middle of the court, and I was sort of retrieving and allowing him to pretty much hit the shots that he wants. And against a shot-maker, someone who hits the ball as big as him, that’s obviously not ideal.
“Whether that was down to me being a little bit slower in the fifth set or whatever it was, it was not a successful tactic, hitting the ball short in the middle of the court. Didn’t work,” he added sarcastically with a hint of a smile.
Despite the disappointment of defeat, Murray is pleased with how he has picked up his form this tournament. According to the Scot, he came into Paris “playing garbage”, but has managed to defeat high-quality players like Juan Martin del Potro and Kei Nishikori en route to the semi-finals at Roland Garros.
“I’m proud of the tournament I had. I did well considering. I was one tiebreak away from getting to the final when I came in really struggling. So I have to be proud of that,” said the three-time Grand Slam champion.
“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, you know, over four, four-and-a-half hours, that can catch up to you a little bit. So 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.”
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