DejÃƒÂ vu as Andy Murray beats Richard Gasquet in five
If the Parisian crowd had enjoyed a string of home wins on the opening day of proceedings at Roland Garros, they were all but salivating at the second day’s line-up.
As soon as the draw pitted British number one Andy Murray against the classy but unpredictable Richard Gasquet, this was the first-round match that caught the eye. And these two had history.
Back in 2008, the Scot faced the Frenchman on the green sward of Wimbledon’s Centre Court. For a Murray not yet in the top 10, his gutsy five-set win was a landmark match. It raised the British crowd to a frenzy of excitement that he had failed to ignite until he bared his soul to them that day.
Since then, however, Murray’s rise the top of the game has not always been matched by a rise in the affection of the British public.
Gasquet, a former world number seven and blessed with one of the most aesthetically pleasing games in tennis, has since found it more difficult to win the big matches. He has also had other distractions, not least a subsequently overturned accusation of cocaine use during 2009.
But Gasquet has been starting to show some of his old form and, last weekend, he won his first title in almost three years at Nice. And Monday’s match was Gasquet’s first appearance at Roland Garros since 2007.
The Frenchman launched into splendid tennis almost immediately, firing his exquisite single-hander top-spin drive with equal ease in every direction. He plays the kind of varied and attractive tennis that the Paris crowd loves, particularly when delivered from the racket of their own man.
He took the first set, and then the second in a tie-breaker. But his long final on Saturday began to weigh heavy and, despite gaining a break in the third set, Murray’s resilient counter-punching and the hours he has put in at the gym and on the roads started to pay dividends.
His double-handed backhand may not have the artistic sweep of a magician’s wand, but it is a devastating shot, and it left Gasquet floundering -often mid-court -on many occasions.
Murray won the third set, Gasquet sought treatment twice during the fourth, and from then on, it was always Murray’s match. After a little over four hours, in sweltering heat, he took the win 4-6 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 6-2 6-1.
Murray next faces Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina, who should be a less taxing opponent. The Scot will have to work on his serve though, which averaged just 47% in this match. His movement and stamina looked solid, but he will need to win his matches a little more convincingly from now on if he is to stay strong through this marathon of a tournament.
Elsewhere there was much for the French crowd to cheer. Firstly, the artistry of defending champion Roger Federer, winning in straight sets.
Then there was second-ranked Frenchman, Gael Monfils, a showman to his toes, conceding just one set to lucky loser Dieter Kindlemann.
Two seeds bid farewell, both Spanish: Feliciano Lopez and Tommy Robredo.