French Open 2016: Andy Murray downs Gasquet to set Wawrinka SF showdown

Andy Murray is through to the semi-finals of the French Open in Paris after beating home favourite Richard Gasquet in four sets

The schedule on a very cool second Wednesday at Roland Garros felt just a little out of kilter. Were there really four fourth-round matches rubbing shoulders with two men’s quarter-finals?

Indeed there were, and that meant that world No1 Novak Djokovic —arguably the favourite for the French Open title—was now into his third day of either waiting to play or playing for a place in the quarter-finals, while world No2 Andy Murray, also tipped for success here, had confirmed his place in the last eight three days before.

Indeed Murray and Richard Gasquet followed Djokovic and Roberto Bautista Agut onto Philippe Chatrier to contest a semi-final place, in one of the most packed days since the tournament began.

Djokovic had found himself bogged down, almost literally, in a dog-fight against the resilient Spaniard, and he lost the first set in heavy, drizzling conditions. Two short sessions on Tuesday proved to be arduous and frustrating, but the Serb pulled back a set to level and led 4-1 in the third when play ended for the day.

Djokovic, despite the cold conditions, soon took the lead when they returned to complete, taking the third set 6-1 and, against some impressive resistance from Bautista Agut, the fourth set and match, 7-5.

But the highlight of the day for the French crowd was the appearance of Gasquet in his first ever Roland Garros quarter-final—at his 13th attempt. What’s more, the elegant shot-making of the man who turns 30 in two weeks’ time is the kind that Paris loves: That Gasquet was also the only remaining French player, man or woman, from 26 starters ensured he felt every ounce of their love.

Even with that love, he had a big task on his hands. Murray had a 7-3 lead over Gasquet in previous matches and was on a four-match winning streak dating back to their four-setter at here in 2012. Indeed Murray had beaten the Frenchman in all four Grand Slam meetings, most famously coming back from the brink at Wimbledon in 2008 in a five-set marathon.

Murray also happened to be in the form of his clay life, arriving in Paris with a semi run in Monte-Carlo, finals of Madrid and the title in Rome—and having beaten Rafael Nadal and Djokovic along the way.

Should anyone need further proof of Murray’s clay credentials and consistency, he had already made the semis in three of his last four Roland Garros visits—that’s more than any other British man or woman. And he had now made the quarter-finals of 20 of his last 21 Grand Slams.

This, like that Wimbledon thriller, would pitch their contrasting styles and physical strengths against one another. Murray took the upper hand, throwing drops into the mix very quickly to take advantage of Gasquet’s position metres behind the baseline. The Briton went 3-0 up and served for the set at 5-4, but now the Frenchman’s tennis began to flow, and he broke with a sprinting chase to a drop, then a lob, and drew a Murray error to break. He broke again and survived three break points to grab the set, 7-5, after an hour, and the crowd was ecstatic.

Both tested the other in the first games of the second set, playing long, arduous and tactically complex games to 2-2. But Murray’s drop-shot ploy drew a break in fourth game, and another drop, lob, and smash combo took Murray to 5-2.

However just as in the first set, Gasquet broke at the key moment, and held with two stunning backhand winners. So with more than two hours on the clock, they headed to a tie-break, and the French thousands went into overdrive as Murray double faulted to hand Gasquet a 3-1 lead. But Murray was then clutch on serve, twice acing, and would not drop another point: 7-6(3).

It seemed inevitable that Gasquet’s stamina level would begin to drop in the face of one of the fittest and strongest men on the tour, and so it did.

Murray broke immediately with two first-strike returns, and again for 3-0 as Gasquet picked up a time-violation warning. Murray sensed his opponent’s dip in energy, and upped his pace and precision to the baseline—still with a few leg-draining drops thrown in. A backhand winner sealed another break and he held for a 6-0 set in little more than 20 minutes.

Another half hour, and the energy began to drain from the crowd almost as quickly as Gasquet’s right arm. Murray broke in the third and fifth games and served out the win, 6-2.

It takes Murray to a fourth semi-final here, his 19th Grand Slam semi-final overall, and by the time he had won this treat of a match, his next opponent, defending champion Stan Wawrinka, had already beaten the unseeded Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-2, 6-1, 7-6(7), hitting 49 winners to his opponent’s 10.

Wawrinka has won seven of his 15 previous matches against Murray, but has won the last three in a row and both that were played on clay.

Facing Djokovic in tomorrow’s quarter-final will be No7 seed Tomas Berdych, who beat David Ferrer 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 in a little over two hours. The other quarter set an intriguing contest between two of the younger players to have broken the top 20 in recent months. Both 22-year-old Dominic Thiem, seeded 13, and 25-year-old David Goffin, seeded 12, have reached their first Grand Slam quarter-finals to set a seventh meeting—and will play not just for their first Major semi-final but for a place in the top 10.

The 22-year-old Austrian, who has won three clay tournaments this year, beat Marcel Granollers, 6-2, 6-7(2), 6-1, 6-4. Goffin, who reached back-to-back semis at Indian Wells and Miami and the quarters in Rome, recovered from a set down to beat Ernests Gulbis, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.

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