Just Like The Good Old Days, Murray Guts Out Epic Comeback Win Over Wawrinka

Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka (photo: European Open)

ANTWERP, October 20, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Two former Grand Slam champions – Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka – played for the European Open singles final Sunday afternoon at sold-out Lotto Arena in Antwerp, Belgium. Although it took four rounds and the elimination of seven of the eight seeded players in the 28-player draw – including top seed Gaël Monfils and No. 2 seed and home country hero David Goffin – it was worth seeing Murray and Wawrinka, who together share six Grand Slam singles titles and 61 tour-level titles, battle it out for the 20th time in their remarkable careers. Boy, did they battle!

The spirit and verve of Murray’s comeback from hip surgery – reaching a final for the first time since 2017 – culminated in a perfect, undefeated week as the Scot won the European Open title 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 over Wawrinka for his 46th career ATP Tour singles title and first since winning at Dubai in March of 2017. It took two hours and 27 minutes to determine the outcome.

By winning while currently ranked World No. 243, Murray became the lowest-ranked ATP Tour singles champion since Pablo Andujar won Marrakech in April 2018 ranked No. 355.

Asked what winning the European Open meant to him, Murray said during an on-court interview before the trophy ceremony, “Obviously, it means a lot. The last few years have been extremely difficult. Both me and Stan have had a lot of injury problems. It’s amazing to be back playing against him in a final. I think it was a great match. Stan was playing unbelievable. He was hitting winners from all over the court. I was just able to hang in there. I didn’t expect to be in a position (to win). I’m very happy.”

After beating Ugo Humbert 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 to advance to his first ATP Tour final In nearly three years, Murray, 32, said “I feel good,” during his on-court interview Saturday evening. “It has been a long road to get back to this point. I certainly didn’t expect to get here so soon after I started playing again, so it’s a big surprise for me.”

At No. 243, Murray entered the European Open for the first time using a protected ranking to reach the main draw. He had dropped just two sets during his four wins leading up to the final. Meanwhile, Wawrinka’s ranking of No. 18 placed him as the fourth seed in his Antwerp debut, and after a first-round bye, he won just one of three matches in straight sets. Sunday’s three-set thriller would not change that statistic.

“Stan’s a brilliant player,” Murray said of his opponent whom he carried an 11-8 lifetime win-loss record against into the final. “We’ve played against each other a lot in big tournaments. He has had his injury problems as well in the last couple of years. In fact, my last match against him in 2017 was when the problems in my hip really started. I never recovered from that match.”

The match which Murray referred to was in the semifinal round of the 2017 French Open, in which Wawrinka gutted out a grueling five-set win, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-1.

Like Murray, Wawrinka has not won a title since 2017. This was his 83rd ATP Tour-level match since undergoing double knee surgery two years ago. After beating 18-year-old Italian rising star Jannik Sinner 6-3, 6-2 in Saturday’s semifinals, the 34-year-old Wawrinka thanked the Lotto Arena crowd for supporting him. “I feel the support of the Belgian audience and I feel welcome here in Antwerp,” he said.

“The way I am playing, the way I am moving, I have a lot of confidence in my game.”

When Wawrinka was asked to recall his last head-to-head clash with Murray, the aforementioned 2017 semifinal at Roland Garros, the Swiss star said, “It was an amazing match for me because I was playing my best tennis. It’s true that since, a lot of things happen which were not the best in our career, but we’re still here. So, it will be amazing to play each other.”

From the outset, the pace, depth and heaviness of the shotmaking by both Murray and Wawrinka was tremendous. The Swiss No. 2 rode an early service break to a 3-0 lead over Murray by winning more than 70 percent of his first-serve points while saving two break points. He made the break stand up and won the 43-minute first set 6-3, serving four aces, winning points on both his return with a steady forehand and with his blistering backhand. While Murray was not playing badly, Wawrinka was just a bit better.

The Swiss wasted little time in pushing ahead of Murray at the beginning of the second set. In the third game, Wawrinka blistered a one-fisted backhand up the line at 15-40 to break the Scot and take a 2-1 lead. Throughout, he was just a step ahead of Murray. He consolidated the break with a well-disguised drop shot and a service winner. Then, Murray went into fighting mode and won three straight games. He saved a couple of break points to trail 2-3 and got right back in the set, leveled it when Wawrinka netted a backhand return and, then, holding serve for a 4-3 lead.

At 4-all, Wawrinka raced to a 15-40 advantage, but Murray erased two break points with his sixth ace and a forehand winner. Then, he won the game with another ace and a netted return by Wawrinka. Murray broke Wawrinka to close out the 51-minute second set and, after being a set and a break down, it was on to a decider between the two fighters.

In the final set, it became a focused match of touch and angle – and who wanted it worse. From 1-1, there were four consecutive breaks of serve between the two veterans, with Wawrinka breaking Murray in the third and fifth games, while beating broken by the Scot in the fourth and sixth games.

As The Tennis Podcast tweeted midway through the third set at 3-all, “Forget the result. This is awesome.”

At 3-3, Murray held at 15, then Wawrinka won at love to even it at 4-all. Then, Murray dodged two break points and held for 5-4 after a replay challenge upheld an out call against Wawrinka after the Swiss star hit a wide forehand. After two hours and 19 minutes, with the match riding on Wawrinka’s ability to hold his serve, Murray got the job done. He won on his first match point as Wawrinka shanked a return on the 12th point of the game.

At the end, just three points separated the two. Wawrinka outpointed Murray 91-88. But there was so much more to the match than statistics. There was the look in Murray’s face as he won and in Wawrinka in how he accepted the outcome.

“Stan’s a brilliant player,” said Murray. “He always plays extremely well in the big matches. I expected another tough match today. … This is the biggest win I’ve had after everything I’ve been through. This is a big moment for me.”

Wawrinka said: “He’s an amazing champion, he’s part of the Big Four, he’s one of the top players to every play this sport. He’s won everything possible on the tennis court. He’s a big champion, always a fighter. He’s coming back already from hip surgery. [To play] at that level, it’s something amazing.”

Krawietz/Mies win doubles title

Top seeds Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies, both from Germany, made their Antwerp debut a successful one. The reigning French Open champions defeated second seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury from Great Britain, 7-6 (1), 6-3, in one hour and 13 minutes to win the European Open doubles title. It was the third title of the season for Krawietz and Mies, who lifted trophies earlier this year at the New York Open and at Roland Garros.

En route to the champion, Krawietz and Mies did not drop a set in any of their four matches. They saved the only break point they faced from Ram and Salisbury. The duo, which began the week in fifth place in the ATP Doubles Race to London, will move into third place with 3,625 points, 75 points ahead of Raven Klaasen of South Africa and Michael Venus of New Zealand and 245 points better than Bob and Mike Bryan of the United States, after collecting 250 ATP rankings points for their European Open title.

“We enjoyed it a lot all week. The tournament was really nice, very well organised… We had a lot of fun this week,” Mies said. “We had a good time.”

By the numbers

When Andy Murray beat France’s Ugo Humbert in Saturday’s semifinal round, it ended a three-year run of French finalists at the European Open. In each of the previous three finals of the tournament, France has been represented by Richard Gasquet (2016) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (2017), who won the first two European Open titles, and Gaël Monfils, who was a 2018 finalist.