The narrative felt familiar. A flashy player from the fringes of the top ten takes on an established top-five guy, a great defender who would be sure to outlast his opponent in the end.
Yesterday, it was Gasquet and Ferrer. Today, Stanislas Wawrinka and Andy Murray. Even after Wawrinka took the first set, the same talking points reappeared: Surely Wawrinka would press, or tire, or Murray would wake up and play better tennis. Fortunately for Stan, he didn’t have to fight off as spirited a comeback as Gasquet did; he simply kept employing the same successful strategies while Murray, passive and error-ridden, let him run away with the match.
While Murray’s impotence will be the story of this match–he hit only 15 winners in the entire match, and that includes six aces–much must be said about Wawrinka’s game plan.
The Swiss is known for his backhand, but unlike Gasquet, he doesn’t unduly favor it. Roughly 40% of his groundstrokes are backhands (including slices), meaning he is willing to move around it and attack with the forehand. The Wawrinka forehand is a weapon that is known to break down, but when it’s working, it can be just as deadly as the backhand. It didn’t falter today: Stan earned 27 winners and induced five additional forced errors with shots from that side.
But the forehand was only a complementary part of the attack. What continued to surprise throughout the match was Wawrinka’s willingness–sometimes over-eagerness–to come to net. His transition game is a little awkward, and many of his errors came from failed approach shots, but by continually putting more pressure on Murray, he closed out points when Andy would’ve been content to let them go on for ten more shots.
Another underrated part of Wawrinka’s game is the serve. While Stan will never post eye-popping ace numbers, it’s an effective shot that sets up the rest of his game well. Today, he only tallied four aces and one unreturnable, but of 76 total serve points, Wawrinka won 29 of them with or before his second shot. That isn’t as foolproof as an Isner-like ace tally, but the end result is the same.
And sure enough, it prevented Murray from even sniffing opportunity. Murray didn’t earn a single break point in the match, the first time he has failed to generate one since his loss to Roger Federer in the 2010 World Tour Finals.
Wawrinka, on the other hand, pushed Murray to 30-30 in almost every one of his service games, and after suffering through a marathon game at the end of the first set, in which he needed seven opportunities to seal the break and the set, he didn’t waste nearly so much time again. The Swiss converted three of five break point opportunities after that first set.
It was a bad day for Murray, that’s for sure. It represented a step back to before his days as an Olympic and Grand Slam champion, and it may be a tough one to bounce back from. Wawrinka, on the other hand, forces us to consider him as one of the “next four,” perhaps the Swiss #1 sooner rather than later. He won’t always beat Murray with today’s game plan, but he’ll do more damage against higher-ranked players.
In Saturday’s semifinal against Djokovic? That’ll be a big ask, even playing the way he did today. Novak has reeled off eleven victories in a row in their head-to-head, though their last match was the marathon fourth-rounder in Australia, when Stan pushed him to 12-10 in the fifth set. The semi won’t have the star power it would’ve with Murray, but we can expect some great tennis.