Qualifying begins: 26 June
The Draw: 30 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July
Order of Play: 2 July
Championships begin: 3 July
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Will it be “La Decima” for Rafael Nadal or “Le Deuxième” for Stan Wawrinka at Roland Garros?
Nadal, a nine-time French Open champion, will face the 2015 champion in the final on Sunday after the Spaniard brushed aside Dominic Thiem of Austria, 6-3, 6-4, 6-0.
On the other half of the draw, Wawrinka struck an incredible 87 winners as he twice came back from two sets to one down to beat world No.1 Andy Murray in an epic contest that lasted more than four-and-a-half hours, with the Swiss eventually triumphing 6-7(8), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(3), 6-1.
“I have been playing a great event but Stan is playing unbelievable,” Nadal told the crowd on the Court Philippe Chatrier after moving to his tenth French Open final for the loss of just 29 games.
This was argubaly his most dominant performance yet, and 29 is the fewest games conceded en route to the final since Bjorn Borg moved to the 1978 showpiece having relinquished just 27 games.
"I saw him play earlier and he hit the ball super hard,” said Nadal, who has reached his second consecutive Grand Slam final this season. “I need to be at my best.”
Although Nadal, 31, has beaten the third-seeded Swiss in 15 out of 18 matches, Wawrinka is 3-0 in Grand Slam finals, including a win in the 2014 Australian Open title match against the Spaniard.
Playing Nadal on clay at the French Open is surely one of the toughest tasks in sports. With his win over the sixth-seeded Thiem, the 14-time Grand Slam champion extended his run in Paris to 78-2. Those two defeats came against now-retired Robin Soderling of Sweden in 2009 and to Novak Djokovic in 2015.
“It’s probably the biggest challenge you can have in tennis,” said Wawrinka. “He's the best player ever on clay.”
Although Wawrinka said Nadal was the favourite, he pointed out that both players will be nervous come Sunday.
“He's going for his 10th Roland Garros, so it's something really impressive, something tough,” said the Swiss, at 32 years of age the oldest man to reach the Roland Garros final since Niki Pilic in 1973.
“In the end of the day, it's the final. The pressure is on both players. No one go on the court thinking he has no pressure. We both want to win the title, and we both gonna give it all on the court,” said Wawrinka.
Gusting winds, ice towels, temper tantrums, standing ovations and breathtaking rallies. The first men’s semi-final between Wawrinka and Murray had it all.
Wawrinka had led 5-3 in the first set before Murray upped his return game to force a tiebreak. Although had Murray led 4-2 in the tiebreak, he saved a set point at 5-6, before winning it 8-6 when Wawrinka netted a forehand return.
After Wawrinka levelled the match by taking the second set on two breaks of serve, he raced to a 3-0 lead in the third before Murray regrouped. At 5-5, Wawrinka twice failed to put away simple shots and Murray made him pay, defending brilliantly to force the break and then playing a perfect service game, including an outrageous drop volley, to go up two sets to one.
Trading blows from the baseline, with Wawrinka as the attacker with his blistering single-handed backhand while the Scot defended valliantly, their 18th-meeting, a repeat of last year’s semi-final which was won by Murray, was at times reminiscent of a heavy weight boxing match.
“I tried to be the aggressor,” Wawrinka told French television straight after the match. “It wasn’t always easy because he is the No.1 in the world. But it was important to stay calm, to play point by point and wait for my chances.”
The highlight of their contest was the fourth set, which went into a tie-break after both held serve without facing a break point. In the tiebreak, Murray buckled first, whacking his hand on his racket in anger and shouting at his box after he netted a drop shot to hand Wawrinka a 4-2 lead. Reading the direction of a second-serve well, Wawrinka took the match into a decider with a forehand down the line as the match entered its fifth hour.
Running on empty, Murray lost five quick games in succession before breaking back. It would prove to be just a consolation, with Wawrinka breaking once again to move into his second French Open final as he thumped a backhand down the line.
But Murray leaves Paris in a more confident mindset than when he arrived, which will surely help him during the grass court season.
“I'm proud of the tournament I had,” said Murray, the defending Wimbledon singles champion. “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.”
No-one was quite sure how Wawrinka made this forehand down-the-line winner...
Rafael Nadal on what it would mean to complete “La Decima” of 10 French Open titles:
“9 or 10 is only 10% more. Is true that 10 is a beautiful number, but actually my favourite is 9. But for sure it becomes 10 will be my favourite.”