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Gasquet breaks fourth-round hoodoo

By Dan Imhoff   on   Sunday 29 May 2016
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Frenchman Richard Gasquet has reached the Roland-Garros quarter-finals for the first time with his defeat of Kei Nishikori.

The French won't dare to dream just yet. They’ve been here too many times before.

But on a cold, gloomy Paris Sunday, Richard Gasquet has given them cause for guarded optimism.

The 29-year-old did what he had never done in 12 previous campaigns - reaching the quarter-finals of his home Grand Slam.

His blistering 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 upset of an out-of-sorts Kei Nishikori came despite the odds tilted against him. Despite holding down the ninth seeding, Gasquet had lost six of his past seven matches against top-10 opponents and in his four prior fourth round appearances in Paris he had never progressed.

He had lost his past two matches to the Japanese No.1 - both on clay, both in straight sets - in the third round of Rome and Madrid this year. But Gasquet was paying no attention to what was meant to transpire on paper.

"Very difficult, especially against [Stan] Wawrinka a few years ago, I think I was leading two sets to love. So of course, it's a great match for me to win [against] the No. 6 in the world on central court in Paris," Gasquet said.

"[I was] just motivated to play in the fourth round against one of the biggest players in the world with all the crowd cheering for me in Paris [on the] biggest stage in the world for a French player. That's why I really wanted to win this match."

Press conference: Richard Gasquet R4

Trailing 2-4 in the opening set, the Frenchman pegged back the break as the umbrellas began to pop up across Philippe-Chatrier Court.

Upon the resumption of play after a rain delay, it was Gasquet who responded the better reeling off eight of nine games to take the first set and race to 5-1 in the second.

A yelp of "Allez" followed another misfired Nishikori return as Gasquet stood at two set points. He needed just one, ripping a backhand winner down the line to bring the Chatrier crowd to its feet with chants of "Ri-chard" echoing around the concrete cauldron.

With scores locked at 2-2 in the third, Gasquet was handed a code violation warning for coaching. Booing in disapproval at the call, the crowd rallied behind the Frenchman as he closed to within two games of the upset.

When the fifth seed Nishikori shanked another forehand long to trail 0-30 on serve at 4-4, he threw his arms up in disbelief.

This just wasn't shaping to be his day. Still, he managed to hold and when Gasquet rolled in a double fault serving to stay in the set, Nishikori sensed his chance.

"[I was] just motivated to play in the fourth round against one of the biggest players in the world with all the crowd cheering for me in Paris [on the] biggest stage in the world for a French player. That's why I really wanted to win this match."

He skipped around a backhand to drill a forehand down the line before sealing the third when Gasquet's volley found the net.

Putting the third-set stutter behind him, Gasquet broke to open the fourth, raising a fist to the crowd as chants of “Allez, Ri-chard” again broke out.

A double break allowed the Frenchman insurance as he stepped up to serve for the match at 5-2 and if his nerves were on edge, his Japanese opponent made his task easier when he swatted four straight errors to seal the result.

"I really wanted to do a good match today, and I think this rain interruption did me a world of good, because we had a very good chat," Gasquet said of reconvening with coach Sergi Bruguera during the rain delay.

"I was at 4-2 in the first. I wasn't following the right strategy. If I don't hit back with this type of player, there's no way I could have won. Winning the first set was great for the rest. It was a big game."

Second seed Andy Murray awaits and has already faced the wrath of a vocal French crowd in his comeback five-set win over local wild card Mathias Bourgue in round 2.

Gasquet has only beaten the Scot in three of 10 clashes. He doesn't care that the odds will be against him once more.

"I need to play very offensive, because if not, it will be difficult for me to win," he said. "[It was like] a Davis Cup match for me today ... I admit it made a big difference for me. And of course it will be the same on Tuesday, but for sure I need to play a big match to [beat] Andy.

"We have played together very often. He's always defeated me in the Grand Slams, but I'd like to change the tide."

Murray had want to hope actor Hugh Grant returns to cheer him on as he did in that match. It may be the only Chatrier support outside his box he can bank on against another Frenchman.

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