Winners Matter. Power Could Prove Pivotal in Paris.

By Jane Voigt

Stan Wawrinka moved into his second French Open final today, sliding past the top seed, Andy Murray, in a brutal semifinal that went four-and-a-half hours. Wawrinka hit over 87 winners to his opponents 36, crushing the ball in the final set to render null and void all of Murray’s extensive skills: 6-7(6), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(3), 6-1.

“It’s incredible for me to reach another final here,” Wawrinka said, as reported. “I have to make the most of this.”

Murray was shell-shocked, walking off Court Philippe-Chatrier without stopping to sign a hat, ball or tournament guide. Wawrinka became an instantaneous hero to the French crowd, which shares a common language with the Swiss resident. And, he became the oldest player to reach this final since 1973, when a 33-year-old Niki Pilic advanced. 

Stan Wawrinka connects with an ackward forehand, during the 2016 French Open.
Photo credit Leslie Billman

The fifth set was a thing of beauty for Stan fans. He won 16 of the first 21 points to go up 5-0. Losing his first chance to win, he broke Murray and claimed the win with a bullet-worthy down the line backhand winner. Iconic Stan stuff. 

“Physically, I didn’t feel my best at the end,” Murray said. “I didn’t have enough weight on my shot at the end of the match to put him under pressure.”

With temperatures predicted to be in the high 80s on Sunday, dry and fast conditions should prevail. That would be an advantage for Wawrinka. However, his opponent will be Rafael Nadal who made quick work of Dominic Thiem, in the second semifinal of the day, 6-4, 6-3, 6-0. It’ll be Nadal’s 10th final. 

“I’ll have to play my best tennis if I want to have a chance to win,” Wawrinka said. “But in any case, I’ll give it my all, do everything I can.” 

Wawrinka’s industrial-strength style is reminiscent of Robin Soderling, who dismantled Nadal in the fourth round of Roland Garros in 2009. Soderling hit flat and hard, moving Nadal around the court enough to diminish his talents. 


That was 8 years ago, which is important to remember, because since then Wawrinka has come into his own with masterful performances enough to earn him 3 Grand Slam titles, his first over Nadal at The Australian Open in 2014. To make things tougher to predict, Nadal has never lost a final in Paris; and, Wawrinka has never lost a Grand Slam final. He’s 3-0. Nadal wants that 10th title, no doubt, but skilled enough not to let that thought creep into this mind until the last ball is struck. Wawrinka will do the same. They are professionals and know their priorities. 

On the women’s side … Jelena Ostapenko will not be the oldest player to reach a Grand Slam final, but the youngest since Caroline Wozniacki in 2009, at The U. S. Open. She was 19. Ostapenko celebrated her 20th birthday yesterday. 

Ostapenko’s power game shares common ground with Wawrinka. 

She blasted her way past Tmea Bacsinsczy yesterday, hitting 50 winners. Her forehand is faster, on average, than Andy Murray’s forehand. So the comparison of power between Wawrinka and Ostapenko becomes even more relevant to the outcomes of their respective finals plus the overall nature of how clay-court tennis has been played over time. 

Yesteryear matches, the Spanish dirt-baller style, were long arduous affairs. Loopy wind ups produced loopy balls. Points dragged on. This French Open has been different, witness Wawrinka’s number of winners and those from Ostapenko. 

Through the first six rounds, Ostapenko has hit 245 winners. Wawrinka has hit 253 winners. And, Simona Halep, Ostapenko’s opponent in tomorrow’s final, has hit 118 winners. All three players have a positive winner/unforced errors ratio.

“Her [Ostapenko’s] like is like this: everything very fast,” Anna Medina-Garrigues, former pro and Ostapenko’s coach since April, said, according to The New York Times. “Hit fast, walk fast, talk fast. Her personality is like this. She’s very active. She has a lot of energy all the time. And she’s putting this activity on the court. She’s thinking of what she’s going to do and then she goes for it.”

Rafael Nadal, during the 2016 French Open. Nadal withdrew after the third round with a left wrist injury. Photo credit Leslie Billman 

In the third set of the Wawrinka/Murray semifinal today, the number-three seed connected with a 100 m.p.h. forehand down the line. People gasped. This same go-for-broke ball bludgeoning Ostapenko dances with willingly and instinctively.

“Best example in the match point,” Bacsinscky said. “I mean, I serve very well wide. She’s like, hitting as hard as she can down the from from nowhere. I mean, who tries that … seriously? It’s like 1 out of 10. But she does it. So, we’ll see if she does it at 28 years old.” 

Both Nadal and Halep live by an expanded view of their tennis. They do not live by power alone, although both can exert pace. However, they will have to be ready to either end points more quickly or accept and move on from the winners that could pile up against them. As their minds stand now, Halep won’t let go having proved how well she can fight down 3-6 and 1-5 in her quarterfinal to Elina Svitolina. Nadal, as we all know, never gives up. Plays every point as if match point. And, this is his house. 

Both finals should provide ample amounts of entertainment no matter who you cheer on.

The women’s final is tomorrow, beginning at 9 a.m. EST. The men’s final is Sunday, beginning at 9 a.m.




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