Friday 9 December 2016

Murray blows Gasquet away to rack up more milestones

Paul Newman

Published 02/06/2016 | 02:30

Andy Murray gets fired up as he battles back to beat Richard Gasquet during yesterday’s French Open quarter-final (Getty Images)
Andy Murray gets fired up as he battles back to beat Richard Gasquet during yesterday’s French Open quarter-final (Getty Images)

If winning the biggest prizes in tennis all came down to natural talent there is every chance that Richard Gasquet's career would have been just as successful as Andy Murray's.

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However, mental and physical strength can be just as crucial as any technical or tactical ability, as Murray showed once again in beating his French rival 5-7, 7-6, 6-0, 6-2 to claim his place in the semi-finals of the French Open for the fourth time.

That is some record for a player who, in his early years at least, found clay his most challenging surface. In the Open era only seven players - Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander, Andre Agassi and Ivan Lendl - have made the last four here more times than Murray.

He has now reached 19 Grand Slam semi-finals in total, which among active players is bettered only by Federer, Djokovic and Nadal.

Murray, who will face Stan Wawrinka in the last four tomorrow, passed his latest milestone despite letting slip 5-2 leads in both of the first two sets and despite playing in front of Gasquet's home crowd.

The world No 2, nevertheless, loves such a challenge. This was his 16th successive victory over a home player at a Grand Slam tournament and the eighth time he has performed that feat here. It was also his 16th win in a row against French opposition.

World No 12 Gasquet, an elegant stylist with a beautiful single-handed backhand and a fine touch at the net, knows all about Murray's mental strength. The 29-year-old Frenchman has now lost to him in all five of their Grand Slam meetings.

It was very much a match of two halves. For the best part of two sets Murray looked out of sorts and played without his usual aggression, resorting far too often to drop shots, which a grateful Gasquet regularly punished. The Frenchman was often the aggressor at this stage and reaped a regular reward from his forays to the net.

However, everything changed once Murray had won the tie-break at the end of the second. As the Scot upped the ante, playing with new-found aggression and with much better shot selection, Gasquet's spirits seemed to plummet.

In closing out victory after three hours and 23 minutes, Murray won 12 of the last 14 games.

"Both of us had our chances in the first two sets and it was very important for me to win the second," Murray said. "It was a very tough match and I'm glad to have come through it."

The match began in a curiously subdued atmosphere just after 2.15. After the two world No 1s had preceded Murray and Gasquet on Court Philippe Chatrier - Serena Williams beat Elina Svitolina 6-1, 6-1 and Novak Djokovic beat Roberto Bautista Agut 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-5 - half the crowd seemed to decide that lunch was their biggest priority.

Impressive

Murray has won eight of his 15 previous matches against Wawrinka, who continued his impressive run when he beat Spain's Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-2, 6-1, 7-6.

The meeting between Murray and the defending champion will bring to an end one lengthy winning streak: Murray, having won the Rome Masters en route to Paris, has won his last 10 matches, while Wawrinka, who won the Geneva Open before arriving here, has won his last nine.

"Stan has played great tennis here the last couple of years," Murray said. "It's going to be incredibly tough. We haven't played each other for a while. Hopefully I can play my best tennis and reach my first final here."

Djokovic finally booked his place in the quarter-finals by beating Bautista Agut in a match that had been scheduled to play on Monday before rain intervened.

Resuming at 4-1 in the third set, Djokovic came flying out of the blocks to win the first two games of the day. Bautista Agut broke to lead 4-2 in the fourth set, only to drop his own serve in the following game. At 5-5 Djokovic went to break point with a beautifully executed drop shot, after which Bautista Agut netted a backhand to give the world No 1 the chance to serve out for a victory which sees him become the first player in history to pass $100m (about €89m) in prize money.

In the quarter-finals today Djokovic will face Tomas Berdych, who beat David Ferrer 6-3, 7-5, 6-3. Djokovic or Berdych will then have to play their semi-final tomorrow, meaning they will have been on court four days in a row

Dominic Thiem beat Marcel Granollers 6-2, 6-7, 6-1, 6-4 and now faces a quarter-final meeting with David Goffin, who beat Ernests Gulbis 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.

Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal has pulled out of the Aegon Championships at Queen's later his month, raising concerns that he could also miss Wimbledon.

The Spaniard withdrew from the event yesterday citing the wrist tendon injury that has already ended his French Open. (© Independent News Service)

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