French Open: Andy Murray blows away Wawrinka and sets up glory shot
Andy Murray’s voice cracked as he tried to sum up what his latest piece of British tennis history meant to him.
By beating defending champion Stan Wawrinka in the semi-finals of the French Open, Murray became the first British man since Bunny Austin 79 years ago to reach the singles final at Roland Garros.
Tomorrow he will face his old enemy, Novak Djokovic, as he bids once again to emulate Fred Perry, the last British men’s champion in 1935.
Speaking on Court Philippe Chatrier after his 6-4 6-2 4-6 6-2 victory over Wawrinka, Murray struggled to contain his emotion.
“I’m extremely proud,” he said. “I never expected to reach the final here.”
Murray will play in his 10th slam final looking for his third title and is only the 10th man in the Open era to have reached the final at all four slams.
Before his clay-court epiphany last year it was virtually unthinkable that he would make it this far at Roland Garros.
But his performance against Wawrinka showed just how far he has come on the surface, and victory over Djokovic tomorrow would not be the huge shock it once would have.
Murray said afterwards he knew he would have to play one of his best clay-court matches if he was to beat Wawrinka, who stunned Djokovic in the final 12 months ago and was unbeaten in 12 matches here.
This was undoubtedly his best ever showing on clay, and one of his best on any surface.
He never allowed Wawrinka to find any rhythm, won the backhand contest against one of its prime exponents, deployed the drop shot impeccably, came to the net intelligently and served brilliantly when he needed to.
He also handled the occasion superbly, maintaining his focus throughout and not allowing the crowd, who roared when Wawrinka won the third set, to distract him.
“To play at that level in the semis of the French Open is very pleasing,” said Murray.
“There was a lot of pressure there, as well, today. I was just really happy with the way that I handled everything, and it was for sure one of the better matches that I have played on clay throughout my career.
“To play the way that I did today after a tough start to the tournament, I was just really, really happy with that.”
Murray’s struggles in the first two rounds seem a distant memory now. How different it might have been had Murray not held his nerve two points from defeat against Radek Stepanek in the opening round.
It was clear how good he considered his chances to be here after beating Djokovic in the final of the Rome Masters a week before the tournament when he said of the Stepanek victory: “It could turn out to be one of the biggest wins of my career.”
How right he was, and now he joins his ‘big four’ rivals Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in having reached the final at all four slams.
“It’s big,” said Murray of the achievement. “Especially with the guys that are around just now. It’s not been easy. I lost three semis (at the French Open). I lost two to Rafa and one to Novak last year. So beating Stan, he’s obviously won this event before. The further he gets in tournaments, he tends to play better, as well.
“So to have done it against him means a lot. There’s not many players that do that now because before three of the slams were played on grass, and now they’re on the different surfaces. It’s not an easy thing.”
If Murray is to go on to lift the trophy, he will have to join Wawrinka and Nadal in denying Djokovic the title he craves more than any other.