French Open 2016: A Rivalry That Cuts Deep

The longest number of years a country had to wait for a home champion at a slam used to be around the mid 70s. Andy Murray is very familiar with it. He was the one who had borne the brunt of that burden for the last decade, before he put it to rest with his maiden Wimbledon title in 2013.

That dubious distinction has now shifted to the French, who last had a home champion – Yannick Noah in 1983, a good 33 years ago. Richard Gasquet knows a lot about burden of expectations, though this is not one that has been dumped on him – mainly because he never made beyond the prequarterfinals.

Today, Gasquet will have a chance to give this narrative some real shape – should he defeat Andy Murray in the quarterfinals of the 2016 French Open. For that to materialize, the uber talented Frenchman has to conquer a rivalry that has not been too kind to Gasquet.  Gasquet has had his moments, but it is the Scot who  has had the last laugh in some of their important battles.

The rivalry started on a good note for Gasquet, about 10 years ago in the 2006 Canadian Masters. Up until 4 years ago in 2012, the rivalry was tied at 3-3. However the theme was set for the rivalry with Gasquet coming at the short end of the 3 biggest matches in their rivalry – 3 matches played out on the biggest stages of our sport – Grandslams.

To make matters further worse, Gasquet lost the two of those matches from being 2 sets to love up – one each at the French Open and Wimbledon.Since 2012, however Gasquet has not won another match against Murray and lost 4 in a row – including 2 matches in the French capital – one at the French Open and the other, last year, at Paris Indoors.

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The good news for Gasquet is that he has still been able to eke out a set in all those 4 meetings – which suggests that he does have the game to go toe-to-toe with the 2012 US Open Champion. The struggle and challenge for Gasquet, as it has been for most of his career, is going to be on the mental and emotional side. Can he get out of his own way and let his game flow long enough to dominate Murray’s relatively passive game?

He has been able to do exactly that during the first week of the tournament and he will have to step it up in the all important second week. Murray has had a shakier ride than most expected in the first week and though he seems to have settled those kinks down, Gasquet’s game has the firepower to dig them up again.

Prediction: All the number and logical arguments point to Murray, but the allure of Gasquet’s fairy tale run, should he run the table here, is too hard to resist. I am picking Gasquet to entertain us with his God-given backhand for 4 sets and make it to his first semifinal in his home slam.

The Other Quarter-Final

Stan Wawrinka looked like he was far from ready to mount a credible defense of his 2015 French Open, two weeks back when he was ushered out of Rome, by a game Juan Monaco. He then went to his home tournament in Geneva and now he’s on a 8 match winning streak and looking forward to a quarter-final against a guy who’s never been into the second week of a major.

After a impressive title run in Geneva, Stan seemed to have a nightmare start in Paris when he was a set away from a first round humiliation by Lucas Rosol. Credit to Stan, he took control of the match and his path since then has been more like a contender for the title.

He could not have picked much more easier match up than Albert Ramos-Vinolas, a guy he’s dominated with a 6-0 H2H, including a 1 and 1 thrashing in Geneva, a week beofre the French Open. Ramos-Vinolas has shown his clay court prowess against Raonic in the 4th round. However, he will need to take it up another notch to get his first win against a Wawrinka who seems to be finding Championship form.

Prediction: The Spaniard might trouble Wawrinka for a set, but in the end, expect Wawrinka to make it to his second consecutive French Open semi-final in 4 sets.

Prakash Potukuchi [ Prakash is the co-founder of Sportz Cosmos. He tweets here.]

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