Thursday 22 February 2018

Murray determined to blow Gasquet away

Mark Hodgkinson

Those images will have already started repeating in Richard Gasquet's head, the ones from the occasion when Andy Murray brought some of the spirit of Los Angeles's Muscle Beach to the lawns of the All England Club.

Gasquet has every right to have a complex about his fourth-round opponent. This place is supposed to look and feel like an English summer garden party, like a faux-Victorian idyll, but it is more than capable of causing great rips and tears in a man's psyche.

For all the theatre and trickery from Murray under the Centre Court roof over the past week, he and his opponents have never come close to touching the heights of the evening at the 2008 Championships when he came from two sets down to defeat Gasquet to reach the quarter-finals, and then celebrated by making his bicep bulge.

There is another image that could be on a loop in the home cinema in Gasquet's mind -- the moment earlier in that match when the Scot was forced wide on Centre Court, welted a backhand winner, and ended up standing on the lip of the photographers' pit, with the eyes popping out of his skull, and the veins in his neck dangerously engorged; never before or since has he looked as high on emotion and adrenalin as he did then.

For half a second it seemed as though Murray was about to perform a rock star's stage-dive into the front row. As if that is not enough for a man of Gasquet's delicate sensibility to consider before playing Murray again, he could also think back to the time when he once more established a two-set lead over him in the opening round of last season's French Open, only to lose in five.

Even someone of a more robust nature would find it difficult to move on from twice losing matches from seemingly unassailable positions against the same opponent; at Wimbledon, Gasquet served for a straight-sets victory, and at Roland Garros, he was a break up in the third set.

Only six times in Murray's career has he turned a two-set deficit into a five-set victory, and a third of those have been against the Frenchman, a Wimbledon semi-finalist in 2007. "I'm sure Gasquet will not have forgotten what happened," Murray said.

This is the first time since 2008 that Gasquet has played at the All England Club -- so for these two to meet again, and at the same stage, is quite a moment for all the armchair psychologists out there.

Murray is a complex man, and Gasquet even more so. Gasquet would contend that he is not psychologically damaged from their previous match here. We shall see tomorrow when, for the first time this year, Murray could play outside on Centre Court.

Gasquet has so far been hitting freely, but there is a world of difference between playing on an outside court, and taking centre stage against the fourth seed, against someone hoping to become Britain's first male Grand Slam singles champion for three-quarters of a century.

Much has happened to both players since that switchback ride on the grass, and especially to Gasquet with the controversy of the 'Cocaine Kiss', which meant he was suspended from the 2009 Championships, but this year's encounter cannot be played in isolation from events in 2008.

Should Gasquet, who is yet to drop a set this fortnight, establish a two-set lead, it is inconceivable that neither player will be thinking back to the narrative arc of last time. If Gasquet were to take a two-set lead, there would be doubts in his head about whether he could close it out, and on the other side of the net, Murray would imagine that another U-turn would be possible.

"I often win the first two sets against Murray, but not the others, so I hope not to win the first two sets this time," joked Gasquet. Though he lost the third, fourth and fifth sets of his two previous Grand Slam matches against the Scot, he has not lost his sense of humour. Perhaps Gasquet could contend that the reason he fell away in Paris that time was because of physical rather than mental deficiencies, as he had won a tournament in Nice the weekend before the start of last year's French Open, and so had already been feeling weary on arrival at Roland Garros.

Gasquet should not say the same about their match on Wimbledon's Centre Court. Going on entertainment alone, all of Murray's matches at the All England Club have to be judged against that encounter three years ago, which brought him the prize of a first Grand Slam quarter-final, and was the first time that he and the Centre Court crowd had a moment together.

Clearly, Murray's four-set victory over Spain's Daniel Gimeno-Traver, his straight-sets win over Germany's Tobias Kamke, and his four-setter against Croatia's Ivan Ljubicic have not been at that level.

Though Murray's through-the-legs shot against Ljubicic showed an awareness that everyone likes some flair with their forehands, he would much rather have a quiet, uneventful, straight-sets victory over Gasquet than to recreate the drama of their last grass-court meeting.

The winner will play either Lukasz Kubot, a Polish qualifier, who defeated ninth seed Gael Monfils, or Spaniard Feliciano Lopez (whom Murray's purring mother, Judy, calls 'Deliciano').


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