Wimbledon 2015: Impressive Djokovic beats Gasquet to keep titles hopes burning

Defending champion Novak Djokovic beats Richard Gasquet 7-6 6-4 6-4 to reach the Wimbledon final

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis at Wimbledon

It may be unfair to describe Richard Gasquet as a surprising member of the final four at this year’s Championships.

The Frenchman with flair to spare had, after all, been a semi-finalist here once before—though eight years ago.

But since those heady days when he reached a career-high of No7, he had not got beyond a Grand Slam fourth-round until last autumn—when he reached his first semi at the US Open.

And not since that same year of 2007 had he beaten Novak Djokovic—the Frenchman’s only win in 12 matches. Only last month, in their most recent meeting, Djokovic had taken Gasquet apart at the French Open, conceding only six games. Indeed the Serb had lost only one set to the Frenchman in nine matches.

For since those heady days, the paths of these contemporaries had taken very different trajectories. Djokovic, the world No1 by more than 4,000 points, winner of 46 from 49 matches so far this season, with the Australian Open and four Masters titles under his belt, was also defending champion here, going for his third Wimbledon title and ninth Major overall, and had carved out a near-invincible game over the last four years.

After 10 titles in 2011, he won six the year after, and seven in each of the last two years, plus another six Major finals during that stretch.

This, then, looked like a case of David and Goliath, and that was before you factored in that Djokovic had not lost to a player ranked as low as Gasquet’s current No22, or anyone outside the top 10, at a Grand Slam since Wimbledon five years ago. It was also before you factored in that Djokovic had won his quarter-final against Marin Cilic in three straight-forward sets, while Gasquet had taken three and half hours to beat No4 seed Stan Wawrinka 11-9 in the fifth.

It would almost certainly have been his Wawrinka match, along with Gasquet’s other outstanding wins over No11 seed Grigor Dimitrov and No26 seed Nick Kyrgios, that made Djokovic suitably wary, for the Frenchman was playing like the teenage star who beat Roger Federer in a flurry of attacking tennis at Monte Carlo a decade ago. By coincidence, that was also the last time Gasquet had beaten a No1 player.

Djokovic asserted: “I think the biggest difference with Richard now, maybe comparing to the last couple years, is his fitness. I think he improved a lot. I heard he worked hard to get himself really fit and ready to go the distance and it’s paying off. He always had the touch; he always had the talent. He loves playing on grass. He has a variety. He can play really well from defence and offence. I think he’s also very skilled on the net. He improved his serve. He’s an all around player. I will try to do my best there.”

And Djokovic got off to the best possible start, with a break for 2-0, but Gasquet very quickly began to show the flair and attack that had thrilled fans on quarter-final day. He unleashed his famed one-handed backhand for a winner and the break back. And he maintained that level, forcing Djokovic to play his best from the start: after seven games, Gasquet had yet to make an unforced error.

But come the tie-break, and the champion’s focus redoubled. Gasquet levelled at 2-2 before Djokovic ran away with the next five points, 7-6(2).

During the shirt-change before the second set, Gasquet revealed several bands of taping on this right shoulder: How serious that could be was hard to tell, though it seemed not to impede his signature down-the-line backhand.

Gasquet had missed time at the end of 2014 with back problems but that, too, seemed a thing of the past. Not that such things helped. He saved an immediate break point in the first game that with a backhand winner but fell victim to a superb looping forehand pass on the next.

There were, now, some wonderful rallies, with great cross-court angles, touch and retrieval, but Djokovic increasingly seemed to be reading Gasquet’s tactics, and his defensive game was, as always, outstanding.

Gasquet could not make any consistent inroads, despite plenty of flourishes, and was soon out the second set, too, 6-4, despite some treatment to Djokovic’s shoulder at the end of the set.

The third set followed a near-identical pattern, but Djokovic’s serving, as it has been all tournament, was precise and varied. Gasquet saw a glimmer of hope in the second game, but Djokovic slammed the 0-30 door shut, and broke in the third. Still Gasquet lived with the chess-like baseline game, rushing in to finish at the net when possible. Facing match-point at 3-5, he pulled off a hold with a show-stopping net exchange, but would not halt the inevitable: a love hold sealed the deal for the Serb, 6-4.

It took Djokovic to his fourth Wimbledon final, where he would face one of his greatest adversaries, whoever won the second semi. Djokovic beat Federer in last year’s final in a memorable five-setter—and Federer is one of the few men to beat the Serb this year, in the Dubai final, but Djokovic extacted revenge in both the Indian Wells and Rome finals. They stand 20-19 in Federer’s favour, so their rivalry is on knife-edge.

His other adversary could be long-standing friend and rival, Andy Murray, who beat Djokovic here in the 2013 final. But this year alone, Murray has met and lost to Djokovic four times, twice at Grand Slams, and that has taken the Serb’s dominance to 19-8.

Djokovic affirmed afterwards that his shoulder was fine and would not affect his next match, whoever he played.

He added: “I am definitely living the dream here at Wimbledon, playing on the most renowned court it the world.”

Both Federer and Murray have reason to feel the same in their respective field of dreams.

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