For two players hailing from the same nation, you would probably struggle to get a duo more different than Frenchmen Richard Gasquet and Gael Monfils.
The introverted Gasquet, who has long struggled to deliver his best tennis in front of his home fans at Roland Garros, is certainly more comfortable on the lawns at Wimbledon, having advanced to the semi-finals in 2007 and the second week on another four occasions. Monfils, a lover of the limelight, has relished the Parisian support in four trips to the French Open quarter-finals – he was a semi-finalist in 2008 – yet at the All England Club, he is yet to advance beyond the third round on a surface he struggles with.
There are indeed some similarities; the two compatriots are both extremely naturally talented, and both won their opening round matches at the All England Club on Tuesday. Yet the manner in which they approached their back-to-back matches on Court 18, their methods for executing their tennis, and their final respective scorelines were all vastly different.
Gasquet was forced to battle from two-sets-to-one down against Australian qualifier James Duckworth, yet roared through the final two sets in a mere 41 minutes to record a 6-7(3), 6-3, 3-6, 6-0, 6-1 victory.
Duckworth received treatment on his shoulder in the early stages of the first set, but that didn’t stop the 22-year-old from troubling the No.13 seed, his combination of serving and forehand power and a nuanced backhand proving effective on the lawns throughout much of the match. But once he began to lose his range and gift Gasquet some loose errors, the Frenchman pounced.
With his magnificent one-handed backhand especially effective, Gasquet reeled off winner after winner while Duckworth was weighed down by a mounting error tally. The Frenchman moved smoothly about the court, advanced on the net regularly and ceaselessly attacked, smacking 23 winners to just four errors in the final two sets alone. A final ace sealed his progression to the second round.
While Gasquet provided a text-book example on how to succeed on grass, it was as if Monfils took that same textbook and then threw it in the bin. His unorthodox approach is well known, yet today he took this to new heights in his 7-6(5), 7-5, 6-4 victory over Tunisian lucky loser Malek Jaziri.
Monfils complained of injury, chatted frequently between points with his supporters and at the change of ends with the umpire, vacillated wildly in his intensity levels – sometimes he wouldn’t even attempt to run for shots, other times he would fling himself about the court in mad pursuit of them – and also produced some jaw-dropping tennis.
“On grass is never easy for me. (So) I'm very relaxed. I'm just the coolest than ever on grass,” he explained. “Then is hard for me to play like solid tennis, I will say, because I can't move. Actually I can't move. I don't feel comfortable. So I try to play just some part of the match. It was fun, so it's good for me.”
Monfils, seeded No.24, recovered from deficits of 1-3 in the first set and 1-4 in the second, finishing the match with a tidy stats sheet reading 50 winners to just 24 errors along with 17 aces. “For me, it's like shot after shot, just focus on my serve. If the ball is very short, I try to hit it and come to the net,” he surmised.
That serve came to the fore in the final game; an ace cemented victory and set up a second round match with rapidly improving young Czech Jiri Vesely.
Should both he and Gasquet win their respective second-round matches, they will clash in the last 32.
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