PARIS (AP) — Battering the ball as if each shot would determine the match’s outcome, 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka came back to beat No. 1-ranked Andy Murray 6-7 (6), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-1 on Friday and become the oldest French Open finalist in 44 years.
The No. 3-seeded Wawrinka, a 32-year-old from Switzerland, reached the fourth Grand Slam final of his career. He’s won the previous three: at Roland Garros two years ago, the U.S. Open last September and the Australian Open in 2014.
“It’s incredible for me to reach another final here,” said Wawrinka, who extended his winning streak to a career-best 10 matches. “I have to make the most of this.”
A year ago at the French Open, Wawrinka lost to Murray in the semifinals. This time, Wawrinka managed to wear down the seemingly tireless Murray, himself a three-time major champion. It was a triumph of offense over defense, as Wawrinka used his sublime one-handed backhand and hammer of a forehand to send Murray scrambling and sliding all over the red clay at Court Philippe Chatrier for a tad more than 4½ hours of compelling action.
Over and over again, Murray would lean, or even lunge, and somehow manage to put his racket strings on seemingly unreachable shots. Murray used plenty of drop shots and lobs, often to great effect. He deflected overheads. In sum, Murray generally made Wawrinka work so hard to get any shot past him.
But make no mistake: Wawrinka does not discourage easily. Called “a very powerful guy” by Murray, Wawrinka kept walloping his strokes, resolute in his intention to attack and attack and attack.
By the anticlimactic close of what Murray termed “a very high-intensity match,” he was complaining aloud about having “no legs.”
“Physically, I didn’t feel my best at the end,” Murray said. “I didn’t have enough weight on my shot at the end of the match to put him under pressure.”
That let Wawrinka run away with the fifth set, taking 16 of the first 21 points and going up 5-0. He capped it, appropriately, with a backhand down the line, his 87th winner of the day, 51 more than Murray accumulated.
“He obviously hit some great shots in the fifth,” Murray said, “but I didn’t keep the score close enough to sort of put him under pressure.”
When he faces nine-time champion Rafael Nadal of Spain or No. 6 Dominic Thiem of Austria on Sunday, Wawrinka will be the oldest man in a French Open title match since Niki Pilic was 33 when he was the runner-up to Ilie Nastase in 1973.
Nadal and Thiem were scheduled to play in the second semifinal Friday, after the stadium was cleared because separate tickets were sold for the day’s two marquee matches.
“I’ll have to play my best tennis if I want to have a chance to win, no matter who I play,” Wawrinka said. “But in any case, I’ll give my all, do everything I can.”
He certainly did that against Murray, through their many lengthy and delightful exchanges and various ebbs and flows in which one player, then the other, appeared to be in control, only to cede it soon thereafter.
When Wawrinka hit a reflex volley passing winner to a corner after a blink-and-you-miss-it exchange as both men stood at the net, he held a set point at 6-5 in the first-set tiebreaker. At that moment, each man had won 43 points, their contrasting styles essentially erasing each other.
Wawrinka had a letdown right then, though, wasting his chance to win the set by dumping a backhand into the net. Then Murray’s terrific defensive lob stretched a point until Wawrinka’s forced forehand error. And Murray capped his three-point run to claim the tiebreaker when Wawrinka put a forehand return into the net on a second serve at a mere 84 mph (136 kph).
That set was the first lost by Wawrinka all tournament, but he moved on quickly enough. Breaking Murray three times in a row, Wawrinka used a seven-game run to take the second set, plus a 3-0 lead in the third.
“I lost my way a little bit at that period,” Murray said.
Suddenly, he got back on track, breaking a couple of times to move ahead in the third, which he won to nose in front.
The fourth set was even as can be — neither held a break point — but Wawrinka stepped up in that tiebreaker by winning its final three points, the last with a run-around forehand return winner delivered from wide of the doubles alley.
Wawrinka pointed to his right temple, as he often does to celebrate success on key points, and was on his way to the final.