Andy Murray’s hopes of reaching his first French Open final were left in the balance here on Friday night after his semi-final against Novak Djokovic was called off for the day with the contest tantalisingly poised. As a storm approached after a brutally hot day, the players left the court at 8.32pm with Djokovic leading 6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 3-3. They will resume their battle to face Stan Wawrinka in tomorrow’s final at noon BST on Saturday.
It had been a remarkable match, with Murray playing three poor games to lose the first two sets but fighting back magnificently to take the third. The Scot also went a break up in the fourth, though Djokovic replied in kind before play was halted.
For the most part this has been a chilly French Open, but the temperature has soared in the last two days. A fierce sun burned down on Court Philippe Chatrier throughout the first match as Wawrinka outlasted Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, beating the Frenchman 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 after more than three and three-quarter hours.
The temperature was still 33C as Murray and Djokovic walked into the stadium, though it cooled down when the forecast rain clouds started to appear. In the first set at least ice towels were very much the order of the day.
Djokovic, who has won his last seven matches against Murray, survived a sketchy seven-minute opening game and there were no serious alarms for the Scot until he served at 3-4. Two forehand errors saw him go 0-30 down, but they were nothing compared with his dreadful miss on the next point, when he put what should have been an easy forehand kill into the tramlines. At 0-40 Djokovic pressured Murray into missing a backhand and the Serb went on to serve out for the set.
The second set followed a similar pattern. Serving at 2-2 and 15-30, Murray put what should have been a routine overhead into the net. Djokovic missed a backhand on his first break point of the game but the Scot netted a backhand on the second.
Murray had plenty of support in the crowd, with a Scottish voice calling out: “Come on Andy! Pretend it’s Wimbledon!” However, when he served at 3-5 he played another poor game. A woeful forehand put him 0-30 down, but even worse was to follow at 15-40. A Djokovic lob landed just over the net, giving Murray time to let the ball bounce and steady himself for the smash, but he hit it well beyond the baseline.
It was a dispiriting way to lose the set, but Murray’s subsequent response was admirable. As the Scot recomposed himself in the third set, there were no breaks of serve until Djokovic served at 5-5. After hitting a superb forehand winner down the line to go 15-30 up, Murray encouraged the crowd to turn up the volume and they responded with a chant of “Andy! Andy!” Two points later Murray broke serve for the first time after chasing down a drop shot.
Having served out for the third set, Murray was left waiting for several minutes before the start of the fourth as Djokovic took several minutes to return after leaving the court. It appeared to interrupt Murray’s rhythm and the Scot went 0-40 down in his first service game. Remarkably, however, he won the next 10 points in a row, several of them after hugely punishing rallies, to make the first break of the set.
The momentum was back with the world No 3, but to his dismay his level dipped again in the following game. He put what should have been another routine smash in the net at 15-30 and netted a forehand two points later. When Murray sat down at the changeover, Djokovic having held serve to go 3-2 up, he was furious with himself.
Murray went 15-40 down in what proved the final game of the day, but two unreturned serves saved the break points. Holding serve to level at 3-3 could prove to be a crucial turning point in the match.
The Scot will hope that he has taken the best that Djokovic can throw at him, for the Serb had been brilliant in the first two sets. The world No 1 is a wonderfully consistent ball-striker, while his stunning athleticism makes it all but impossible to get the ball past him, especially on clay.
Djokovic has also added some delightful finesse to his game. He has always played drop shots well, but what impressed here was his play when Murray tried the same tactic. Having used his great speed to get to the balls, Djokovic repeatedly outfoxed Murray with his clever use of angles.
Murray, nevertheless, will take heart from his own play in the third and fourth sets. He chased down balls as if his life depended on it and hit some glorious winners of his own, including a stunning forehand after chasing back to retrieve a lob.
The Scot will feel that victory could now be in his grasp, while Djokovic will have another night to ponder how much this means to him. He needs to win here to join the elite group of seven men who have won all four Grand Slam titles.
Earlier in the day a passionate home crowd were unable to roar Tsonga to victory. The world No 15 was attempting to become the first French player to reach the men’s singles final since 1988 but lost what became a war of attrition in the searing heat.
In the end it was Wawrinka’s greater weight of shot that carried the day. The 30-year-old Swiss hit 60 winners to Tsonga’s 39 and 15 aces to the Frenchman’s eight. Tsonga had plenty of chances but converted only one of his 17 break points.
“It was a big battle, it could have gone either way,” Wawrinka said afterwards. “It went down to two or three points. He had opportunities to break me in the third set. As is usual against Jo, it was a very tough match.”
l Heather Watson has pulled out of next week’s Aegon Open in Nottingham, which was to be her first tournament of the grass-court season. The British No 1 is still suffering with the elbow injury that troubled her at the French Open.Reuse content