'Stan the man' heads to Roland Garros final
Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka shattered French hopes of a first men's singles champion in 32 years on Friday when he outlasted Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 6-7 (1/7), 7-6 (7/3) 6-4 in the first of the semifinals.
It was a consummate performance from the Swiss stylist and he will harbour high hopes of taking a second Grand Slam title on Sunday when he was to go up against either top seed Novak Djokovic or third seed Andy Murray.
The 2014 Australian Open winner reached the final in Paris for the first time having lost just two sets along the way.
For Tsonga, the dream of emulating Yannick Noah, the last Frenchman to win at Roland Garros in 1983, was over for another year.
The last Frenchman to reach the final was Henri Leconte in 1988.
"It was a huge battle, very difficult physically, a lot of intensity on both sides and it could have gone either way," Wawrinka said.
"He had chances to break me in the third set, but he had a great tournament and deserves just as much as me to be in the final."
The semifinalists, both aged 30, had met twice before at Roland Garros, each winning in five sets, but their most recent encounter was a superb four sets Davis Cup final win for Wawrinka in November.
That sent Tsonga's form into a tailspin made all the worse by a bad wrist injury that sidelined him until March.
But Roland Garros saw him back to near his best, defeating fourth seed Tomas Berdych and fifth seed Kei Nishikori to reach the semis for the second time.
Wawrinka, a straight-sets winner over countryman Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, struck first, clawing his way back from 0-40 down to break Tsonga's serve for a first time in the fourth game.
That was enough to give him the first set on a baking hot day which saw the temperature nudging above 30C.
The Swiss eighth seed was clearly on top and he broke again to start the second set.
Wawrinka's first serve was regularly in the 210-215 kph range and that, coupled with the fast, bouncy conditions, left Tsonga struggling to cope.
But the Frenchman was finally given a look in when Wawrinka twice double-faulted in the eighth game and he took full advantage to level the set scores when Wawrinka shanked a forehand wide.
The Swiss player failed to convert five break points in a marathon11th game and he paid a full price in the ensuing tie-break which Tsonga dominated to win 7-1.
The roles were reversed in a bruising third set with Tsonga comfortably holding serve and Wawrinka needing to stave off a succession of break points.
But this time it was the Swiss who handled the tie-break better, taking four points in a row from 3-3 to go two sets to one up.
That proved to be a hammer blow for Tsonga who immediately dropped his serve to open the fourth set.
Tsonga adopted the drop shot as his weapon of choice to get back on serve, but he failed to convert two more break points as Wawrinka moved 2-0 up.
Both men were looking leg-weary as the semifinal nudged up to three and a half hours in hot and humid conditions and Wawrinka failed to take a succession of break points that would have put him 5-2 up.
In the end though he did not need the extra break as back-to-back service holds saw him through to the championship match for the first time in what is his 11th campaign at Roland Garros.