Thursday 18 January 2018

Tennis: Murray faces tough task to blow Gasquet out of water

Mark Hodgkinson

WHEN Andy Murray plays Richard Gasquet in the first round at Roland Garros, there will be three participants: the Scotsman, the Frenchman and the fabulously haughty, opinionated Parisian tennis public.

For Gasquet, it ought to be an opportunity to remind the Parisians of his elegant tennis, to show them that he has survived the doping controversy of the night he spent in a Miami nightclub, French-kissing a girl called 'Pamela' and inadvertently putting cocaine into his system.

For Murray, it is a nasty draw, opening his French Open against someone once known as 'Baby Federer', a former world No 7 who has been playing some fine clay-court tennis on the Cote d'Azur this week to reach today's final in Nice.

In the French capital's 16th arrondissement, watching tennis is a participation sport, with the spectators never slow to whistle or hiss when something doesn't meet with their approval, and Murray has spoken in the past of the need "to be on your best behaviour when you play in Paris."

At the other three slams, a player from the host nation would expect pretty much unconditional support from the crowds, but that is not how it always plays out in Paris, and Gasquet, a shy and nervous young man, has had a complicated relationship with his public, once disclosing that he was fearful of how they would react "if things go wrong".


For all his talent, including that wonderful backhand, Gasquet has never had a good French Open -- he been in the third round just the once. In Paris, much could depend on how the spectators treat Gasquet.

The Parisians and Gasquet have not seen each other for three years. He missed the 2008 tournament through injury, and last season the closest he came to stepping on to the clay courts was following the television coverage from his apartment, as at the time he was serving a doping suspension.

Gasquet's 'cocaine kisses' came in Florida last season when he met 'Pamela', and the next day he gave a urine sample that contained traces of the drug, which resulted in a suspension for two and a half months, so he missed the French Open, as well as Wimbledon.

Though an independent drugs tribunal and the Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted Gasquet's story about 'Pamela' and their passion in a nightclub, it was never going to be straightforward reestablishing himself in tennis.

This week, he is ranked 68 on the computer, 64 places below Murray.

After winning all three Masters titles on clay this season, in Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid, Rafael Nadal is expected to go on to win the Coupe des Mousquetaires for the fifth time. He opens against a French wildcard, Gianni Mina, while Roger Federer plays Peter Luczak. (© Daily Telegraph, London).

Irish Independent

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