In the end, it was all about the tennis. No mention of ailments, injuries or loss of focus; no hint of lack of motivation or passion.
In the end, Stan Wawrinka’s tennis was just too good for Andy Murray’s tennis and it is the Swiss who will still be here tomorrow for the French Open final.
The disappointment was clear to see. Murray, the man who by his own admission had come to Paris playing “garbage” was just four points away from his second successive Roland Garros final in the fourth set tiebreak. He lost, after four hours and 34 minutes 6-7, 6-3, 5-7, 7-6, 6-1 but he had come so close.
At the point that he was within touching distance of victory, he had played like a man possessed for four hours. He had defused Wawrinka’s brutal, bludgeoning aggression with defence that had the crowd gasping. He counter-punched, he ran, he chased and got a racket string on shots that any other man would never have even tried to run down. But then Wawrinka primed that right arm of his and started firing thunderbolts off the forehand and backhand wing. There was almost nothing Murray could do.
“He obviously hit some great shots in the fifth set,” Murray said. “I didn’t keep the score close enough to sort of put him under pressure. It’s a lot harder to pull off some of the shots that he was hitting at the end if the score was a bit closer and I wasn’t able to do that.”
He sounded downhearted but the positives Murray will take away from yesterday’s match and his tournament as a whole will far outweigh the negatives.
He fought his way through the first set – Wawrinka was the better player for those first 68 minutes but Murray was the stronger fighter – and he regrouped and rallied after losing seven games in a row at the end of the second set and at the start of third. Then in that fourth set there was not a fag paper between them. For almost an hour, there was not a break point to be seen: the instinctive, improvised defence from the world No 1 keeping the thumping power of the former champion at bay.
On they went to the tiebreak. At 2-2, they had both won 34 points in the set so far. No one was willing to take a punt on the outcome.
Wawrinka hit an unreturnable serve and edged ahead, 3-2. Murray stood up to serve. He got into the rally. And then he hit a drop shot, a drop shot that fumbled its way into the net. Murray was furious with himself: on such tiny margins are such matches won and lost.
With that mini-break in his favour, there was suddenly more air in Wawrinka’s lungs, more drive in his legs and even more muscle in his shots. Murray won the next point but the Swiss took the set.
But even in the fifth set, as Wawrinka sprinted to the finish, Murray fought. He created half-chances and for all that he was three breaks down, he did dig in and break Wawrinka as the Swiss was serving for the match.
It did not prevent the inevitable but it showed Murray in a new light. Comparing the man who had flapped and fluffed his way around the clay court season on his way to Roland Garros to the world No 1 fighting for all he was worth to reach another major final was like comparing chalk to cheese.
“I’m proud of the tournament I had,” Murray said. “I did well, considering. I was one tiebreak 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, four-and-a-half hours, that can catch up to you a little bit. So 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.”
Murray was out of Roland Garros quicker than you could say Coupe des Mousquetaires – there was the grass court season to prepare for and the defence of his Queen’s Club and Wimbledon titles to plan. The Scot wanted to get home sharpish.
From this point last year until the end of the season, Murray lost just three matches and hoovered up eight titles. To maintain his No 1 ranking, he needs to do it all again – the first real threat to his ranking will come at Wimbledon – but finally, Murray is sounding confident.
“I do feel like having an event like this [French Open] can give me a boost, and hopefully have a strong grass court season,” he said.
“I need to try to understand what worked well this event and what worked well in the ten days in the build-up and the practices.
“And make sure I continue to do that throughout the year, not make any mistakes with my preparation or my training, and hopefully I finish the year strong.”
At long, long last and after a grim first half of the year, it was all about the tennis. That could only bode well for the future.