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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, June 9, 2017

Slide marks from four hours of physical play streaked the red clay like routes on a road map.

Elevating his game, Stan Wawrinka unleashed a scorched earth attack fighting into his second French Open final.

Watch: Djokovic's Next Move

Playing bold tennis at critical stages, Wawrinka slashed 87 winners outlasting world No. 1 Andy Murray, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-1, advancing to his fourth career Grand Slam final.

The 32-year-old Wawrinka is the oldest man to reach the Roland Garros final since 33-year-old Niki Pilic finished runner-up in 1973.

The four-hour, 34-minute epic was the longest match of this French fortnight and featured several twists and turns in its shifting plot before Wawrinka punished winners almost at will in bursting out to a 5-0 lead in the decisive set.

Facing one of the fastest movers in the sport, Wawrinka blasted the ball with stunning velocity reminiscent of the 60 winners he clocked in his four-set win over Novak Djokovic in the 2015 Roland Garros final.

The third-seeded Swiss will play nine-time champion Rafael Nadal in Sunday's final. Nadal crushed sixth-seeded Austrian powerhouse Dominic Thiem, 6-3, 6-4, 6-0, and has not permitted a set en route to his 10th French Open final.

The reigning US Open champion is unbeaten in three prior Grand Slam finals, including a 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 triumph over Nadal in the 2014 Australian Open title match. 

Sporting a scraggly beard and snarling competitive bite, Murray played shrewd, tough tennis forcing the sturdy Swiss to play one extra ball in his quest for a 12th Grand Slam final.

A strong-willed Wawrinka never wavered in his commitment to attacking his shots and driving the ball down the line with menacing intent avenging his 2016 semifinal loss to Murray.

This rematch saw Wawrinka make a powerful opening statement pumping an ace to start with a love hold.

Bidding to become the seventh man in Open Era history to reach all four Grand Slam finals multiple times, Murray was spooked by his opponent’s heavy returns in the eighth game. Three unforced errors followed by a double fault handed Wawrinka break point.

The 32-year-old Swiss lined up his favored backhand, but clipped the net trying to play over the high part of the net. Reaching for a high backhand off a funky bounce, Murray had no answer when Wawrinka pulverized a 96 mph forehand for a second break point. Murray tried tempting the US Open champion with a drop shot but Wawrinka caught up to it, backpedaled for a backhand then lashed a forehand pass breaking for 5-3.

Serving for the set, Wawrinka missed three first serves and scattered a forehand to face break point. A soaring defensive lob from Murray extended the point and Wawrinka sailed a bounce smash as the 30-year-old Scot broke back.

A riveting 16-minute tiebreak featured flashes of big strikes and missed opportunities.

Scraping off a half-volley on a surprise serve-and-volley, Murray ignited a rapid-fire net exchange that Wawrinka capped with a backhand volley into the corner for a 6-5 lead. Wawrinka celebrated with a hearty fist pump then waved his arms exhorting fans to make more noise.

Withstanding the turbulence, Murray saved set point on a Wawrinka netted backhand. An exceptional defensive lob extended the point setting up a Murray inside-out forehand for his first set point at 7-6. When Wawrinka netted a forehand return, Murray had the 69-minute first set—the first set Wawrinka dropped in the tournament.

The third-ranked Swiss got back on track stamping a love hold to level the second set after four games.

Catching his toss in the breeze, Murray apologized. Wawrinka wasn’t pleased griping to chair umpire Jake Garner that Murray was exceeding the 25-second time limit between points. That tiff fired up both men who rifled winners during the longest game of the match.

Wawrinka whipped a backhand pass crosscourt for break point. Banging a big serve out wide, Murray screamed: “Let’s go! Come on!” Driving successive forehand winners, Murray looked pump and positive working through a tough hold for 3-2.

Two games later, the Scot slid a double fault wide falling into triple-break point hole. Eyes riveted on the ball, Wawrinka ripped his signature shot—the one-hander down the line—concluding a love break with his eighth straight point for 4-3. Thumping a heavy second serve, Wawrinka backed up the break.

Hitting with more authority and controlling baseline exchanges, Wawrinka stepped around his backhand and smacked a forehand return down the line breaking for his fourth consecutive game to snatch the second set. Wawrinka pounded out 18 winners compared to 5 for Murray in the second set.

Struggling to combat the US Open champion’s depth and pace, Murray sailed a forehand dropping serve for the third time in a row.

By then, Wawrinka had found his groove on serve.

Dotting the corners of the service box to stretch his lanky opponent, Wawrinka bent low for a fine forehand volley sealing his seventh straight game extending to a 3-0 second-set lead.

Though he hadn’t had a sniff of a break since the opening set, Murray did what he does best: scrapped, scrambled, spit back returns and took his cracks when he got them. A deep forehand coaxed an error as the 2016 finalist broke back for 2-3.

That spiked a run of three straight breaks. Murray bludgeoned a sharp-angled backhand breaking again for 3-4.

Throughout the match, Murray’s skill reading the Swiss’ smash—and Wawrinka’s obstinacy trying to hit behind the Scot—was pivotal. Murray wristed back a smash and drew an error then curled a backhand down the line coaxing a volley breaking for 6-5.

Tenacity brought Murray back from 2-4 down in the set. Touch helped him finalize it.

A beautifully casual drop volley highlighted Murray’s hold for a two set to one lead after three hours.

The pair collaborated to produce some dynamic shot-making throughout the fourth set.

A stealth drop shot sealed Wawrinka’s hold for 6-5—he’d won 10 consecutive points on serve by that point.

Launching airborne, Wawrinka was flying in the doubles alley when he rocketed a 100 mph forehand down the line opening the tie break with a bang.

Murray netted a drop shot and followed with two errors as Wawrinka gained three set points, 6-3.

Reading a Murray second serve, Wawrinka danced around a backhand and pulverized a forehand return down the line forcing the fifth set with a clenched fist and index finger to his temple.

Sensing the Wimbledon winner waning, Wawrinka amped up his aggression from the end of the fourth set through the finish line.

Continuing to clock some of his returns off Murray second serves, Wawrinka skipped a forehand down the line for break point then dipped a ball at the Scot’s shoelaces carving out the break to open in the final set.

Cruising through a love hold Wawrinka confirmed the break after four hours, 12 minutes.

Despite more than four physical hours on court, Wawrinka was swinging freely firing 90 mph-plus forehands in banging out another break for 3-0.

Eventually extending to 5-0, Wawrinka served for a shutout set, but Murray broke to avoid the bagel.

Ending an exceptional set in style, Wawrinka whipped a backhand winner down the line capping a classic comeback in four hours, 34 minutes.


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