Stan Wawrinka produced another sublime display of attacking tennis to break down Andy Murray’s formidable defences 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.
Meanwhile, Nadal moved to within one victory of ‘La Decima’ at the French Open as he demolished rising Austrian Dominic Thiem 6-3 6-4 6-0 with a daunting show of force.
The 31-year-old Spaniard, ready to reclaim his Roland Garros crown after a two-year hiatus, dispatched the sixth seed in little more than two hours and is on the verge of becoming the first player to win the same grand slam tournament 10 times.
“Now remains one match against a very tough opponent. He played a very tough match this afternoon, so he will be full of confidence for Sunday,” Nadal told reporters referring to Wawrinka’s five-set victory over top seed Andy Murray.
“He’s a dangerous player because he can hit the ball very hard. I need to play aggressive, if not I’ll be in big trouble.”
Thiem, like fourth seed Nadal, had reached the semi-final without dropping a set and had trounced Serbian defending champion Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals.
But after starting brightly in the early evening sunshine, his challenge disappeared into the encroaching shadows on Court Philippe Chatrier — an arena on which Nadal has never lost a semi-final or final since his debut in 2005.
Nadal has dropped only 29 games to reach the final — surpassing his previous best of 35 in 2012 and only two more than Bjorn Borg’s record set in 1978.
Swedish great Borg might still hold that mark but Nadal has long since left the six-times French Open champion behind in the Roland Garros record books. Not that he cares too much for that.
“I think I don’t need to make more history, no?” Nadal said.
“It’s enough. Nine is more than good. Today is not the moment to think about (winning the 10th).”