Andy Murray is one step away from his 4th French Open semifinal in the last five years, while Richard Gasquet is seeking his first. The two are scheduled to face off for a semifinal slot at Roland Garros on Wednesday. Gasquet will also be seeking to beat Murray for the first time since 2012.
(2) Andy Murray vs (9) Richard Gasquet
Life has gotten a bit less dangerous for Murray after two huge scares in the opening two rounds. Murray has turned in tidier wins in the third and fourth rounds over big serving Ivo Karlovic and John Isner. After dropping two sets in each of his first two matches, Murray won both his last two rounds in straight sets. The Scot’s turnaround can be credited to improved service consistency as Murray has not dropped serve in the last two rounds. Through rounds one and two, Murray had been broken nine times on 22 chances. He has saved a perfect five of five break chances against Karlovic and Murray. The second seed has also worked his trademark grind on-return against two of the biggest serves on tour with five breaks and 20 crafted break points in rounds three and four.
Gasquet has been a buzz saw the last two rounds against legit competition. The Frenchman took down 17th seed Nick Kyrgios in straight sets in round three and then tore through 5th seed Kei Nishikori 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2. The win over Nishikori ended a two match win streak for the man from Japan, who had gone against a lopsided career record versus Gasquet in the last few months. Nishikori was putrid on serve, broken seven times on 13 chances. He won just 59 percent of his service points. Gasquet was consistent, winning 70 percent of his service points and saving three of six break chances. The Frenchman looked poised and patient against Nishikori after dropping both matches against the 5th seed in Madrid and Rome in straight sets. Gasquet’s confidence couldn’t be much higher heading into this showdown with Murray.
Murray has controlled the series against Gasquet in his career, going 7-3 against the Frenchman. Their last meeting came in Paris last fall, where Murray beat Gasquet in three sets at the Paris Masters. It was the 4th straight win for Murray since Gasquet beat him on clay in Rome back in 2012. Those last four matches have seen Murray win three on hard surfaces and the other at the French Open in 2012. The Scot dismantled Gasquet in that 4th round clash 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2. Gasquet has rarely gone down without some fight against Murray, winning a set or more in six of the seven wins by Murray.
The key point for me in looking at this match-up is the Gasquet serve. He’ll be facing the best quality returner he has seen all tournament. With respect to Nishikori, Murray still does more and gets to more balls, so it will be interesting to see if the 9th seed can stay on-point with his serve. He’s done a better-than-normal job on serve during his run at Roland Garros and that is a massive help to his winning ways. When Gasquet is serving well, his ground game is good enough to keep him in contention with most of the big boys.
For Murray, it will be a different challenge this round. The last two rounds, he knew he was going to see some bombs coming off the racquets of Karlovic and Isner. Gasquet won’t bring the same speed on-serve, so it will be up to Murray to decipher the placement as a key to starting his return games effectively. Obviously, the head-to-head indicates that the Scot is able to do that more often than not as his matches against Gasquet progress.
The first set could be very tight if past history is any indication. Gasquet has won four of the last seven first sets played between the two and pushed the other three to tiebreaks. After that, it seems that Murray usually finds his openings against Gasquet and begins to break him down more and more. It won’t be a surprise of course to see Gasquet trying to craft points with his exquisite one-handed backhand moreso than his forehand. Murray likely will try to pound the ball to Gasquet’s forehand as often as possible to see if he can find the errors off that wing. Gasquet was very precise the last two rounds with 65 winners and 37 unforced errors.
Murray of course had gaudy numbers in those categories in the last two rounds with easier match-ups as far as rallies. The Scot totaled 66 winners and 27 unforced errors. That may change some with more baseline rallies coming against Gasquet. Gasquet’s hope will be that Murray turns a bit impatient as Nishikori did and returns some to the form of his opening rounds, where the second seed made almost as many errors as winners against Radek Stepanek and Mathias Bourgue. If you want to know if Gasquet has a shot as the match wears on, take a look at those numbers. The closer Murray is to even in that winner versus unforced error ratio, the more likely it is that Gasquet is in it to win it.
Despite Gasquet’s confidence of the week, Murray enters this one knowing what he needs to do against Gasquet. He’s beaten the Frenchman three times at Grand Slams, rallying twice from 0-2 deficits to beat Gasquet at Wimbledon in 2008 and 2010. That may have been ages ago, but that is a powerful reminder for Murray of what he can do against the Frenchman if he’s up against the wall again. With Gasquet playing well this week, The Pig sees this one being another tough battle at a Slam between these two. It may not have the drama of those two Wimbledon encounters, but it should feature some delightful moments.
Mentally, Gasquet may have some renewed confidence this week on clay, but he’s also proven unable to beat the “Big Four” throughout his career in big matches. Murray is the one he has come closest against more than Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. That may give the Frenchman some hope, but he’ll need more help from Murray via a poor effort to pull off another stunner. At times, it may look like that is going to happen, but the Scot has proven incredibly resilient and should find a way to grind through to his 4th French Open semifinal.
Murray wins in five sets