On paper Richard Gasquet’s encounter against qualifier Go Soeda should have been a relatively straightforward affair but the French No.9 seed needed four sets to see off his 28-year-old opponent to advance to the third round.
The 2007 semi-finalist won 6-0, 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3 but was given a fright along the way when the Japanese world No.129 shook off an initial nervy game to sneak the third set.
Whether Soeda was overwhelmed by his No.1 Court scheduling or simply the prospect of playing Gasquet, who dealt him a 6-0, 6-2 thrashing in Marseille last year, remains unclear but in the beginning at least he looked like the proverbial rabbit caught in headlights.
The only time Gasquet had lost to a player ranked as low or lower than Soeda at a Grand Slam was when he fell to No.219 Florian Mayer at the 2004 Australian Open and the man from Bezeirs wasted no time in stamping his authority on the match, whipping up penetrating forehands and blistering one-handed backhands to which Soeda had no answer. Within 20 minutes the first set had gone the way of the Frenchman.
When Soeda was broken early in the second, there was a sense this match would be over pretty sharpish. Deeps sighs echoed around the stadium as the subdued spectators willed the underdog to lift his performance. Their prayers were answered in the ninth game when Gasquet challenged a call that went against him and promptly delivered two consecutive double faults. When Soeda converted the break point with a sparkling cross-court forehand winner, the crowd erupted. The relief was written all over Soeda’s face. Walking to his chair, he looked to the sky and puffed out his cheeks and from that moment he became a changed man.
Emboldened, the qualifier’s timing clicked into place. He began hitting through the ball with devastating results, and even dared to throw in deft drop shots which interrupted Gasquet’s rhythm. By the third set tie-break, Soeda was in full flow until nerves got the better of him and he missed a number of balls.
Gasquet, winner of nine titles, meanwhile produced magnificent groundstroke winners which found the fine lines of the court to lead 5-2. But when the Frenchman misjudged a sliced forehand, and then netted the next ball, Soeda was looking to seize the opportunity. Two blistering groundstrokes saw him create a set point, which he promptly closed out with an ace.
Gasquet, a 2012 Olympic men’s doubles bronze medallist, broke Soeda twice in the fifth set. He eventually sealed victory with a beautiul cross-court backhand – his 54th winner of the match – to set up a meeting with Australia’s Bernard Tomic in the third round.
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