The French Open title is to be contested by two Roland Garros former champions and could prove to be classic. The two, Rafa Nadal going for an extraordinary tenth title will have his defensive play tested by Stan Wawrinka’s power with the Swiss, who has never lost a grand slam final in three previous appearances, aiming for his second title.
It's true that 10 is a beautiful number, but actually my favourite is nine. But for sure it becomes 10. I think I don't make more history. It's enough. Nine is more than good. Today is not the moment to think about that. Rafa Nadal
They both came through a couple of very exciting semi-final encounters where their respective strengths became very evident for all to admire.
Nadal completely negated Dominic Thiem’s power to come through 6-3 6-4 6-0, much to the surprise of all those watching as the young Austrian had completed routed the world number two Novak Djokovic in the previous round. Having beaten the Spaniard in Rome, Thiem must have been very confident that he could replicate that effort but Nadal on this occasion, was very well prepared and ambushed him, blunting his serve and concentrating his attack on the Austrian’s backhand.
It was another straight sets victory for the 31-year-old Spaniard who now has only lost 29 games in six matches, only one fewer than Bjorn Borg’s 1978 record.
Speaking later, the Majorcan said about the prospects of collecting his tenth title in the French capital: “Nine or 10, it’s only 10 per cent more. It’s true that 10 is a beautiful number, but actually my favourite is nine. But for sure it becomes 10.
“I think I don’t make more history. It’s enough. Nine is more than good. Today is not the moment to think about that. It’s the moment I have to be very happy.
“I’ve played a very good event, all the matches playing well. Today was not an exception. I started a little bit more nervous today than normal, but then I played well.
“It’s true that Dominic played with more mistakes than usual probably. At the same time it was windy out there, and he didn’t play on the centre court before that match. Probably that was not helping him.
“In general, to be in the final again here of probably the most important event in my career, it means a lot to me. I’m just very, very happy for everything, and I’m going to try my best on Sunday.”
But while Thiem was disappointed he took a positive view. “I think he played a good match today. I was not on the top of my game and the result everybody saw.
“Of course it’s nice to be in the semis again, but now I’m really disappointed because I just couldn’t play the way I wanted to. I don’t know why yet, so I have to find some reasons. But in general it was a good clay court season, but I think a very bad ending for me.”
There was major disappointment for British fans as Andy Murray was unable to repeat his semi-final victory of last year over Wawrinka, the 2015 champion, but he pushed the Swiss number one all the way only to run out of steam in the decider, losing 6-7(6) 6-3 5-7 7-6(3) 6-1 after four hours and 34-minutes of intense play.
At 32 years and 75 days, Wawrinka, who struck 87 winners, is the oldest finalist at Roland Garros since Nikola Pilic in 1973. He was also happy that he had retained his focus throughout the match but felt Murray’s form was not up to last year’s.
“For sure it wasn’t easy to be two sets to one down,” the Swiss admitted. “When you play a player like Andy Murray, you know that you can dominate the games, but he’s still going to be there.
“He’s still going to do incredible defence, play the right tennis in the right moment. That’s why he’s number one in the world.
“I was trying to focus on my game. I knew I had some good chances in the first set, in the third set also. I’m really happy to find a way how to win the match.
“Last year he was stronger. He was very aggressive, and he never really let me install my game. Today I think he’s less confident. He played a bit less fast. He was a little more hesitant.”
Murray was not disheartened. “I’m proud of the tournament I had. I did well considering. I was one tie-break away from getting to the final when I came in [to Paris] 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, 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.”
As regards the match itself, he added: “I lost a little bit of speed on my serve, which wasn’t allowing me to dictate many points. He obviously hit some greats shots in the fifth but I didn’t keep the score close enough to put him under pressure.
“Physically I didn’t feel my best at the end. I didn’t have enough weight on my shot.
“A lot of the points he was dictating from the middle of the court and I was retrieving and allowing him to pretty much hit the shots that he wants. And against a shot-maker, someone who hits the ball as big as him, that’s obviously not ideal.
“There are a few things that I for sure would have liked to have done a bit differently. I feel my net game was really poor today. That hurt me on a few occasions and at some important moments.