It’s set, Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka will meet Sunday for the French Open final!
Earlier today, Nadal absolutely dominated Dominic Thiem 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 to reach his 10th final on the grounds of Roland Garros.
The match started out a little shaky for the 9-time champ who had just lost to Thiem last month in Rome – Thiem won the same number of games as then, but this time over three sets.
Rafa was broken right away but was able to break right back. The points were long as were the games. And with a late start just past 6pm, there was some talk the match might not get completed by nightfall.
Nadal, though, took care of that issue promptly. He went up 3-1 in the first then coasted to a 6-3 set. It was another tight start in set two with Thiem trying to make a surge, but Nadal was up to the challenge fending off the Austrian’s charge.
Rafa got another early break and behind a serve that became almost untouchable at times, cruised to a two-set lead.
In the third, another quick break all but sealed it for Rafa, as if there was any doubt. Rafa ran off the final seven games to earn his 22nd Grand Slam victory in 25 attempts. And through six matches he’s only lost 29 games, the fewest he’s dropped en route to a Slam final (though he did get that retirement from Pablo Carreno Busta).
It was another near-perfect performance and a reminder of just how much better he is than everyone else on clay.
“I started a little bit more nervous today than normal, but then I played well, I think,” Nadal said. “It’s true that Dominic played with more mistakes than usual, probably.
“At the same time it was windy out there, and he didn’t play in the center court before that match. Probably that was not helping him. In general, to be in the final again here probably the most important event in my career means a lot to me, no? I’m just very, very happy for everything, and I’m going to try my best on Sunday.”
Toward the end of the match we saw Nadal in full flight, just destroying Thiem. And Thiem, regarded by many as the second best on the dirt, was having difficulty just winning points. It was love game after love game it seemed.
“I think he played a good match today. I was not on top of my game and that was the result everybody saw,” said Thiem who has lost in straight sets in both French semifinal matches. “It’s nice to be in the semis again, but now I’m really disappointed because I just couldn’t play the way I wanted to. I don’t know why yet, so I have to find some reasons. It was a good clay court season, but a very bad ending for me.”
Perhaps things would have been different had Thiem converted early, thought that’s a longshot. Nadal served incredibly well, winning 76% on second serves to 71% on first! That’s crazy.
Rafa was 6/10 on break chances while Thiem only 1/8. And Rafa was 23-22 winners-unforced, Thiem 21-34. And the Austrian was killed on his second serving winning just 37%. That’s not going to work.
“He was a little bit unlucky, in my opinion,” said Nadal. “He didn’t convert the chances, and that changed completely the match. These kind of matches, you don’t get that opportunities, then you are in trouble, no? He had opportunities in the first, opportunities at the beginning of the second, and then I think I played well, no? I played a solid match and was tougher for him.”
To Thiem’s credit, he tried to mix things up by going to the drop shot, but that strategy fell flat.
Rafa now looks ahead to Sunday and for a 10th French Open and his 15th career Grand Slam, and to get it he’ll have to beat Wawrinka, a man who is a perfect 3-0 in Slam finals.
Wawrinka, though, didn’t look like a guy who would make it to Sunday early on against Andy Murray. In a rematch from last year, it was Murray again denying Wawrinka early on. Frustrating the Swiss by making him hit that extra ball, that extra overhead. And time and time again, it worked.
To no one’s surprise, Wawrinka was forcing the issue from both wings, and even serve. Murray, though, was playing some of the best defense we’ve seen.
So back and forth they went. Wawrinka would get on a run, Murray would fight back. Murray would seize control, then Stan would fight back.
As if played out, Stan squandered a chance to serve out the first and Murray made him pay. Stan collected himself and scraped out the second before Murray regained control in a hard-fought third.
In the fourth, it looked like Murray would gain the upper hand, but neither played could take the lead until the breaker. And Stan took it winning 5 of the last 6 points.
Then in stunning fashion, he destroyed Murray to start the fifth racing out to a 5-0 lead then eventually slammed the door for a 6-7(8), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(3), 6-1 victory in just over 4 hours, 30 minutes.
“I’m really happy to be in the final,” said Wawrinka who is now 4-1 vs Murray on clay. “I think it was quite a tough match today. A big battle. I want to enjoy it a lot, because, as I say, it’s not all the time you can say you’re going to play a final of a Grand Slam, especially in Paris. I really want to enjoy that.”
Wawrinka finished with 87 winners, to 77 unforced – think about that, 87 winners against a guy who plays defense as good as Murray does!
“For sure it was amazing match I felt on the court,” said Wawrinka. “I enjoyed playing this match. For sure when you win it’s better after. We had some crazy points with some good rallies, with some good level of tennis. And to play a semi-final here, at the French Open against Andy, No. 1 in the world, that’s something really special, so for sure I enjoy it.”
Meanwhile, the World No. 1 was just 36-to-36 in winners to errors and by the end all the legwork on defense may have taken its toll.
“I’m proud of the tournament I had,” said Murray. “I did well considering. I was one tie-break away from getting to the final when I came in really struggling. So I have to be proud of that.
“Maybe the lack of matches hurt me a little bit in the end today. That was a very high intensity match. A lot of long points. When you haven’t been playing loads, over four-and-a-half hours, that can catch up to you a little bit. I only have myself to blame for that, for 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.”
For Murray, he played Stan tough and got a good win over Kei Nishikori. So better performance today than his previous efforts and a good sign going into the grass season.
For Stan, it’s a date with Rafa.
“I think to play Rafa on clay in the French Open in a final is probably the biggest challenge you can have in tennis,” Stan said. “He’s the best player ever on clay. He’s going for his 10th Roland Garros, so it’s something really impressive, something tough.
“At the end of the day, it’s a final. The pressure is on both players. No one goes on the court thinking he has no pressure. We both want to win the title, and we both are going to give it all on the court.”
So with Thiem done, the task of stopping Rafa now falls to Stan. And there are some similarities between Stan and Thiem. Except…. Stan has a few more Grand Slam titles than the Austrian, including a French Open. And Stan even has a win over Rafa in a Slam final. But never at the French. However, might that change on Sunday?
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