Andy Murray upbeat despite semi-final loss to Wawrinka

Swiss produces a power-packed display to book a final date against Rafael Nadal

Andy Murray leaves Roland Garros in much better shape than when he arrived, even if losing in the semi-finals to Stan Wawrinka over five sets in four and a half hours yesterday afternoon was not the way he would have chosen to bid adieu to one of his favourite tournaments and cities.

He heads immediately for home to prepare to defend his titles at Queen’s and Wimbledon, as well as with the points that leave him unchallenged for a little while yet at the top of the world rankings.

If he can reset his clay game to draw on the form that lifted him to within one match of the final here for the second year in a row, he will be more dangerous on grass, still his surface of choice.

The world No1 arrived here spluttering and sweating and could not train properly for a couple of days with his coach, Ivan Lendl, who flew in from Florida three weeks ago to be reunited with the Scot. Some thought this odd, although it did not bother the player or the coach. Murray was hardly burdened by expectations after an indifferent clay season.


Many experts, including former players, gave him little chance of getting out of the first week, but here he was on a sun-warmed and windy Court Philippe-Chatrier on the 13th day of the tournament, trading blows with a rampant Wawrinka all the way to the end.

After winning 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (7-3), 6-1, Wawrinka, at 32 years and 75 days, becomes the oldest men’s finalist here since 33-year-old Niki Pilic lost to Ilie Nastase in a three-set final in 1973, an occasion that could hardly have been further removed in quality and time from the performance yesterday’s antagonists provided for us.

It was Pilic who inspired the creation of the Association of Tennis Professionals, incidentally, and who would briefly mentor Novak Djokovic.

That is the past out of the way. Now for the future. Murray emerged from what might best be described as a bit of a mauling upbeat and surprisingly confident. Years ago, he would have been in a deep funk.

But, at 30, he treats triumph and disaster with measured intelligence.

“How close that is to my tennis from last year, I don’t know. It’s very difficult to say. Hopefully it gives me a good base to go into the grass court season. I played pretty well these last few matches. Even when you’re playing well, you’re not going to win every match you play, but I put myself in a position to reach a slam final.

“Often when I have done well on the clay [as last year, when he reached the French final and won Wimbledon for the second time], I feel like that’s helped me on the grass. Certainly the matches are not as physical. Going through matches like I did today is a good step for me.

Best level

“But it’s impossible to say how close you are to your best level at any stage. Things change on a daily basis. I played better today than I did in the last match [to beat Kei Nishikori in four sets] and lost. I was one tie-break away from getting to the final when I came in really struggling. I have to be proud of that.

“Maybe the lack of matches hurt me a bit in the end. That was a very high intensity match, a lot of long points. When you haven’t been playing loads, over four, four and a half hours, that can catch up on you. I only have myself to blame for that, 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.”

There were moments when he might have shut Wawrinka down especially after riding out a rough patch to go 2-1 up against the run of play but the strongest man on the Tour would not stay down. Wawrinka played with a ferocity rarely seen in others, whether leading or trailing.

Nearly every groundstroke was loaded with venom. He hit 87 winners and 77 unforced errors. Murray’s numbers were 36 apiece, which reflects considerably greater caution. At the end, though, there was little he could do against a player at the peak of his powers.

He observed of the closing struggle that might have turned into a mugging, “When you’re 5-0 down and three breaks behind in the fifth set you’re not that optimistic. But I tried to keep fighting. The 3-0 game, we were at love-30 in that game. Had I managed to get a break there, it might have been a little bit different. I didn’t.”

Wawrinka, whose own season has been less than brilliant (eight losses in 34 matches) found his 2015 form again – the year he beat Djokovic in the final – and dropped only 54 games to reach the semi-finals, the same as then. He served with more potency than Murray, seven aces to one, and his defensive game has improved markedly, too.

Out but not down in Paris, and London calling? Murray would have settled for that a fortnight ago. Indeed, while still hurting in defeat, he seemed to take a deal of satisfaction from proving a lot of people wrong. It was the manner of his leaving that should be remembered, too.

Final point

There are not many players at any level who would have retained even a sliver of hope at 0-5 down in the fifth set of a slam semi-final against Wawrinka. But Murray made his opponent sweat until the final point, which drew a trademark single-handed backhand winner from the Swiss.

Their embrace at the net was their 18th, and the eighth time Wawrinka has headed for the locker room a winner. They have had a long and often glorious rivalry. This was probably the best of their six encounters at a slam, and they now stand three apiece in those. There never has been a lot between them. In the closeness of their struggles, we can witness tennis at its very best and in every way.

In the day’s other semi-final, Rafael Nadal trounced Dominic Thiem to reach his 10th French Open final, there was definitely an element of master against pupil as the man who would be clay-court king was crushed for the loss of seven games by the man who has worn the crown for more than a decade.

Thiem had given notice that he might be ready when he beat the defending champion, Novak Djokovic, in the previous round but beating Nadal in his back garden was a mountain too far and the Spaniard romped to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 victory to reach the final without losing a set.

Guardian Service