Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Murray outlives sublime Gasquet

Andy Murray came back from two sets to love down to overcome Richard Gasquet in the first round of the French Open yesterday. No doubt, Murray as is the norm in such triumphs, showcased incredible pluck and stamina in conjuring a remarkable comeback, but the manner of Gasquet’s capitulation was chiefly a product of the Frenchman’s steadily deteriorating fitness.

A captivating first two sets saw Gasquet outdo Murray with strokes executed with a rare combination of power and style, with the finesse on his backhand, particularly impressive. His single-handed backhand is so powerfully hit that it is almost embarrassing to call the shot pretty, but the splendour with which the shot is performed, certainly makes it one of the grandest sights in men’s tennis. His knack of producing prodigious top spin coupled with his ability to hit flatly and accurately on the up, make his backhand his strong-suit, a rarity in the modern game. This though should not take anything away from an effective, if not entirely imposing forehand, a serve on which he is capable of pairing power with precision and the dexterousness of his volleying.

After breaking Murray’s serve at 4-5 to take the first set, Gasquet carried his exquisite stroke-making to the second set, although signs of fatigue slowly began to emerge. With neither player managing to break the other’s serve, the second set was settled in favour of the Frenchman only by way of a narrow tie-breaker. Although seemingly exhausted, at the end of the second set, Gasquet was able to break Murray’s serve and take a 3-2 lead, in the third set, only to see the Scot fight back with typical resolve. In moving Gasquet to different corners of the court, Murray showcased all his spirit and nous, taking the third set 6-4, at which point as ludicrous as it may sound, the Scot already seemed destined to triumph.

Possessing an almost innate understanding of the geometry of a tennis court and with Gasquet visibly fatigued, Murray invented strokes of remarkable angular precision. Shattered, Gasquet was reduced to hitting in hope, a strategy which Murray thwarted by continuing to move Gasquet to all parts of the court. Several astute lobs and drop-shots later, Murray wrapped up the final two sets with relative ease; 6-2 and 6-1.

Murray’s defensively modelled game though, while ultimately proving successful may well have brought about his downfall, had Gasquet not fatigued. As he advances through the rounds, Murray may not come across players as sublimely skilful as Gasquet, but they are likely to be fitter and tougher competitors. Murray certainly seems to own an ability to win a grand slam tournament, but he needs to find a way to make shorter work of the early rounds, if he is to have a chance of achieving the final goal.

For Gasquet, a failure to win a contest which he should have bagged with ease will be painful. But having endured an ultimately overturned drug ban, the talented Frenchman can take a lot of positives from the clay court season. A tournament victory in the ATP Tour after a gap of three years, achieved at Nice barely two days before the start of the French Open and a hard fought loss, in which for large parts he outshone Murray are sure to stand him in good stead in the days to come. A shift in focus to the grass courts, a surface not so demanding on his fragile body and more suited to his style of play is also certain to help. Tennis needs its stylists and one can only hope that Gasquet can endure the roughness of the tour and challenge for the top honours, which his game richly deserves.


Anonymous said...

Nice post. You are quite correct to observe that Gasquet's fitness has been steadily deteriorating, as proved by the number of losses that he has suffered recently in Grand Slam. That too, mostly in five-setters.
One can only hope that the stylist improves his fitness and translates his immense ability to more substantial achievements

Suhrith said...

@Anon: Thanks.