Nine-time champion Rafael Nadal marched into a record 10th French Open final after outclassing Austrian sixth seed Dominic Thiem 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 yesterday.
The Spaniard will face 2015 Roland Garros champion Stan Wawrinka for the title after the 32-year-old Swiss defeated Andy Murray in a five-set epic to become the oldest finalist in Paris since 1973.
Nadal, who won the last of his French Opens in 2014, is bidding to become the first man to win 10 titles at a single Grand Slam.
He leads the head-to-head with Wawrinka 15-3, but the Swiss stunned an injury-hit Nadal three years ago to claim the Australian Open crown.
“I have been playing a great event. But Stan is playing unbelievable,” said Nadal. “It will be a super hard final and I will need to play at my very best.”
Thiem broke Nadal in the opening game, but the Spaniard swiftly countered with four games to subdue the Austrian pretender and run away with the first set.
Nadal erased two more break points early in the second set as Thiem again threatened, but the sixth seed promptly lost his own serve to hand his opponent the initiative once more.
With Nadal locked in, the Spaniard calmly converted the first of three set points with a confident volley to leave Thiem staring into the abyss.
The 14-time major champion was in total control after Thiem meekly surrendered serve to start the third set, Nadal responding with a routine hold for a 2-0 cushion.
Wawrinka subjected Murray to a barrage of body blows as he broke down the Briton’s formidable defences to reach the final, twice coming from a set down to win a high-octane 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.
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 armour was finally pierced.
The third seed, at 32 the oldest man to reach the Roland Garros final since Niki Pilic finished runner-up in 1973, was long frustrated by Murray but never lost faith despite seeing his opponent rally back from a break down in the first and third sets.
“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 played.
Murray, who arrived in Paris on the back of a woeful claycourt season, said he could take a lot of positives from his run to the semis.
“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 like Wawrinka owns three grand slam titles, made only one unforced error in the first seven games. He suffered a bit of a meltdown in the eighth, though, and Wawrinka pounced to steal his serve.
POINT OF THE TOURNAMENT
On his second opportunity, the Swiss punished Murray for his ill-timed rush to the net with a crosscourt forehand passing shot.
Murray broke straight back to eventually force a tiebreak that featured a couple of blazing exchanges that would be in the running for the ‘point of the tournament’.
After some fast-paced exchanges at the net, Wawrinka moved to set point with a backhand volley but dinked a routine backhand into the net as Murray levelled 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 netted a forehand return 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 perfectly-hit inside-out forehand gave Wawrinka the second set.
A third consecutive break for Wawrinka earned him a 2-0 lead in the third set as Murray’s frustration grew. He regained his composure to dictate the points and break back, but Wawrinka further increased the pressure to break again for 4-2.
Murray was back again thanks to a whizzing backhand winner, and he pulled off a decisive break for 6-5, holding to take the lead in the match when Wawrinka netted a backhand.
There were no break points in the fourth set, but Wawrinka was simply too good in the tiebreak, taking it with a powerful forehand service return.
The decider flashed by in just half an hour as Wawrinka levelled his grand slam win-loss record against Murray to 3-3 with yet another backhand winner.
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