June 5, 2015
If you see poetry in a sucker-punch set up by a true street-fighter, this really was a match to admire.
Stan Wawrinka saved sixteen break points to show his fighting spirit – but that wasn’t the most remarkable feature of his intriguing performance.
No, the timing of his assault in the all-important third was what left many shaking their heads in knowing appreciation.
Completely dominated all set, Wawrinka managed to hang in there and save his best tennis for the vital tie-break, just when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga probably thought he deserved to lead the match.
Having won the previous, second-set tie-break with ease, Tsonga must have fancied his chances of a repeat performance. He couldn’t have been more wrong.
A sudden, massive effort when it mattered, Stan knew, and the contest would be all but won against a more powerful man who was on home clay and probably closer to the top of his game on the day.
Knowing that Tsonga is so psychologically brittle, Wawrinka duly summoned the necessary energy and applied enough painful pressure during those key exchanges to send his opponent into a tail-spin. The transformation wiped away Tsonga’s growing sense of superiority in an instant, and left him to regret his failure to take all his chances.
We thought Tsonga might collapse mentally, at least temporarily, after the disappointment of falling a set behind again, and so it proved.
Wawrinka was in for the kill, he quickly broke in the fourth and then clung on for dear life. The stocky Swiss chose his moments in the heat, he had already delivered what would prove to be the fatal blow, it was all about doing just enough from then on.
Now Stan the Man simply had to stay close to his victim, while his prey thrashed about and faded in front of a stunned and increasingly silent Parisian crowd.
This was brutal, ruthless street-fighting at its best. If you’re up against a greater force, you find a way. It was the tennis equivalent of fighting dirty. And to those of us who love a devious psychological plan when it is so perfectly executed, there was a certain sporting beauty to this semi-final.
So Stan went through in four, 6-3, 6-7 (1), 7-6 (3), 6-4. And then we had to wait for the identity of his opponent for the French Open final on Sunday.
Whoever it is, they will have to beware. Wawrinka is one of the cleverest players in the business, he can lull you into a false sense of security and then take you down when you least expect it. Just ask poor Jo-Wilfried.
Wawrinka admitted later: ‘The third set changed it, this was a very good battle in tough temperatures. Jo-Wilfried had a lot of chances in the third set but it’s true that I played the big points better. I’m very happy to have won this, it’s great to be in the final at Roland Garros. I won the Juniors here and now I have to get ready for the big one.’