The slight crack in his voice and the dampness around the eyes spoke volumes. Andy Murray was through to his tenth grand slam final and his seventh against Novak Djokovic. But tomorrow he will play his first French Open final – and that meant all the world to him.
For both finalists, tomorrow’s match could earn them a piece of history: Djokovic is attempting to complete his career Grand Slam while for Murray, he is attempting to become the first British man to win the trophy here since Fred Perry in 1935. As it is, he is the first British man since Bunny Austin in 1937 to reach a French final. But Murray is not here just to make up the numbers tomorrow.
The way he dismantled Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 yesterday was the best match Murray had ever played on a clay court. Wawrinka was the defending champion and was the man who had brushed aside Djokovic in last year’s final and yet he was run ragged by the quality of Murray’s serving, the variety of his play, his aggression and daring and by his unwavering focus and belief.
“I knew today that I’d have to play one of my best clay court matches,” Murray said. “Stan’s record here is incredible over the last two years and he’s been playing better in every match in the last two weeks. I’m looking forward to the final now.”
The crowd had been solidly behind Wawrinka from the start. Their champion may have been Swiss, but he is from the French-speaking part of Switzerland and in the absence of any French-born players to cheer, he was their adopted son. But they also know their tennis around these parts and the frozen Parisians, shivering in the unseasonably cold conditions, could only applaud Murray’s effort and his skill.
When the Scot started to play like a man possessed in the second set, the crowd went a little quiet. When he dropped the third set, almost by accident, they hoped for a Wawrinka comeback but when Murray accelerated away with the fourth set, they could not help but cheer his historic achievement. Momentarily, Murray was overwhelmed by what he had just managed to do.
“I’m extremely proud,” Murray said, his voice cracking with emotion. “I never expected to reach the final here; I’d always struggled on the clay. The last two years, I’ve had my best results on clay and now I’m very proud and I hope I can put on a good match for all the crowd on Sunday.”
That he managed to drop the third set came as a complete surprise. Murray only conceded six points on his own serve during that set – and five of them came in the last game as he was broken for the only time in the match. But after a couple of minutes to clear his mind at the change of ends, Murray bounced straight back and reapplied himself to the game plan. He broke Wawrinka’s serve in the first game of the fourth set and immediately took a stranglehold on the rest of the match – he was going to the final and there was nothing Wawrinka could do to stop him.
Amelie Mauresmo, his trusted coach until three weeks ago, was amazed by the level of her former charge’s play from first ball until last. Working for the host French broadcasters, she was asked if she would like to ask a question of the new French Open finalist who was wheeled into the studio, still dripping with sweat and still looking slightly gobsmacked.
“No, no question,” she said. “I just want to say congratulations. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you play a match like that, that kind of match at this level.”
Mauresmo knew that she had seen a potential French Open champion in the making and Wawrinka, too, knew that he had simply been outplayed by a stronger man with a better game plan.
“I think I have never played against him as strong as he was playing today,” Wawrinka said. “He was strong everywhere. I think that Andy played really so well today. He was the strongest on the court. It’s as simple as that. He knew what to do against me. He served better than I did today. He took all the opportunities I thought I could seize. He didn’t give me free points except for the first serve game when I had a break point and maybe he made one or two mistakes.”
But tomorrow, Murray must try to find a way past Djokovic, the man he beat in the Rome final three weeks ago but the man who has made the world No 1 ranking his own for the past two years and who will be trying to become the first man in the Open era to hold all four grand slam titles at once. His head-to-head record with Murray is one sided: played 33, won 23, lost ten. Then again, Murray never imagined that he would ever be in a French Open final. Now he has every right to believe he can win one.
“It’s going to be a special occasion,” Murray said. “Novak is by far the No 1 player in the world and has been for a couple of years but anything can happen in a one-off match.”