Top seed Any Murray and former champion Stan Wawrinka had won a set apiece heading into the third in the semi-final at Roland Garros. Early in the set, Wawrinka broke and raced ahead to a 3-0 lead. Then Murray clawed his way in to draw level at 4-4.

There were 4 breaks in 7 games. There were full-blooded shots and terrible errors exchanged. There were nerves and great mental pressure. Eventually, Murray turned the tide to serve for the set after 60 minutes and won it 7-5. Wawrinka had surrendered another set he was in good position to win, just like the first set.

That could have and should have been the turning point of the match for the World No 1. Murray had reached the tipping point of defensive grit and offensive glitz, and looked like he could wrap up the match in four. But that’s not what happened. Stan Wawrinka summoned the “Stanimal” instinct that has made him a three-time Major champion in the fourth set after losing the third set like a first-time semi-finalist. He went on to win the marathon five-setter 6-7 (6/8), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (7/3), 6-1 and become the oldest French Open finalist in 44 years.

But Wawrinka looked anything but old in the four-and-a-half-hour tussle which was ultimately decided by endurance. He looked fresher and fitter than his younger opponent and when he finally won the match with another stylish backhand down the line winner, he pointed to his head in trademark celebration.

It was fitting in more ways than one – this was a battle of the mind, as much as the body, and Wawrinka held his nerve in the intense, nerve-wracking, long (the longest of the tournament so far) match.

Marathon battle

The match began with an explosive service hold from Wawrinka, before Murray managed to get his own love hold. Wawrinka was using his booming winners to good effect, while Murray was employing his own brand of defensive tennis. The Swiss star upped the intensity by a notch and had the chance to serve for the set. But Murray clawed back from 3-5 to 5-5 and took the set to the tie breaker. It was punishing tennis and despite multiple chances to take it, Wawrinka’s dropped his first set at this year’s French Open.

The second set was completely different. There were tense games that lasted almost 10 minutes, there was the flamboyance of Wawrinka’s whacky winners, there was Murray’s good ole’ dogged work. But this time, the Swiss moved up a gear and took control – he looked to end rallies with sharp shots, converted the break point chances and won it by breaking Murray’s serve.

The third was more like the first. Murray’s dogged tennis may not be pleasing to the eye, but it is extremely effective at wearing down opponents, and Wawrinka did stumble. Murray even became more offensive and started going for the shots. His aggression paid off as he won 7-5. But from then on, the “Stanimal”, as Wawrinka’s beast mode is often called, was unleashed.

The fourth set produced the best tennis of the match. Stunning exchanges from the back court, spectacular net points, epic backhands, court-covering rallies; the works. This was a tussle between two Grand Slam winners, two players who have cut their teeth at the highest level and know what it takes to push that extra inch to reach a Major final. It went to the tie-breaker and Wawrinka claimed with a cracking forehand down the line and from then on, he entered the zone. The third seed raced to a 5-0 lead in the fifth with a triple break and secured a memorable victory.

A score of 6-1 in the last set, after draining four sets says a lot about the mental makeup of both players. For most part of the match, Murray was keeping himself together with supreme effort and resilience, (also known as his current “garbage” tennis) Even as Wawrinka caved in at moments, giving in to wayward shots and unforced errors.

Consider this: In the first set, the Swiss committed 23 unforced errors as opposed to Murray’s 10. At the same time, Murray had nine winners as opposed to Wawrinka’s 22.

But in the end, it was this aggressive approach by Wawrinka that gave him the edge. Overall, Murray had 36 unforced errors and 36 winners. On the other hand, his opponent committed 77 unforced errors but hit 87 winners.

While Murray prioritised defence as he so often does, Wawrinka blazed forward, despite being two sets down. While the Scot looked drained out by the end of the fourth set, the Swiss didn’t let the toll show until after the win. In the end, Wawrinka’s flair triumphed over Murray’s grit and set up an exciting final clash with history-chasing Rafael Nadal.

Wawrinka hasn’t lost a single Grand Slam final he has played in yet. Nadal hasn’t lost a single final at Roland Garros in nine previous appearances. Will he be fourth time lucky or will we finally see the Spaniard claim “La Decima”? Either way, Sunday’s final will be a feast of shots for tennis fans.