The United Kingdom had been waiting for the match between Andy Murray and Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon and when it arrived, it was better than anyone expected.
I only managed to pick three of the eight quarterfinalists at Wimbledon but who knew that Marat Safin would be here for the second week of Wimbledon and Novak Djokovic would not.
I did get two picks correctly, I’m proud to say: Marin Cilic beat Paul-Henri Mathieu in the third round and Andy Murray rallied from two sets down to beat Richard Gasquet in the fourth round, and that’s where we’ll spend all our time today because, so far, it comes closest to matching the sports hysteria we saw in Euro Cup 2008. The people of the United Kingdom are a happy bunch tonight and rightly so.
After Murray saved the first break point of the match at 3-4 in the first set, Gasquet hit one of his wondrous backhands down the line and out of reach. That backhand is a pain in the butt. Gasquet wraps the racket around his head in the backswing without telegraphing the direction of the shot. That same motion can also turn into a drop shot and he has no trouble whatsoever picking up slices and other low lying grass court balls and turning them into winners.
Murray saved the game with two drop shots – no surprise there – but it’s Gasquet who’s applying all the pressure and it’s hard to see how drop shots will stand up to hard flat winners on grass.
With Murray serving to stay in the set at 5-6, he hit a few errors and a double fault to give Gasquet two set points. He saved the first one and on the second, Gasquet hit another backhand down the line followed up by a drop shot. It took forever but Murray got there and put the ball away then launched into his own version of Llleyton Hewitt’s fist pumping lawn mower celebration. On his third set point, Gasquet got to the net again – see a pattern here? – and hit a volley that sent Murray scampering one way then the other and ended with Murray hitting a running backhand passing shot that sent Gasquet into a futile dive. Murray celebrated with his home crowd while Gasquet lay sprawled on the court.
Gasquet finally cashed in on his fourth set point as Murray sent a drop volley wide but you can see the huge and obvious difference between these two young and talented players: Murray relishes the opportunity to get his home town fired up while Gasquet would rather toil under more low-key conditions. And Murray has the greater pressure by far. Gasquet has all kinds of French tennis players to share his tennis wunderkind burden with and Murray has only 242nd ranked Alex Bogdanovic.
Gasquet got another break point on Murray’s first service game in the second set when Murray fooled around with a cute approach shot that went into the net. Gasquet got the break to go up 2-0 and held onto the break to take a two sets to none lead. Serving at 2-2 in the third set, Murray faced another break point and saved it with an ace. He fought off two more break points with serve and volley tennis – a much better strategical response than those cutesy drop shots. If Murray wasn’t going to hit a few hammer backhands down the line himself, at least he could get to the net.
Murray won that game and the United Kingdom let out a huge sigh of relief but the Kingdom was still a bit worried about their boy. Could he actually play aggressively when he really needed to? Not quite. He held his serve in fits and starts and fought off more break points until he finally gave out to go down another break at 4-5 in a game which he started off with another cute shot into the net.
Gasquet now served for the match and Murray finally hit a few solid ground strokes and broke Gasquet for the first time. I’m tempted to say that Murray had hung around just long enough for Gasquet to start making errors. After hitting only three errors in each of the first two sets, Gasquet hit nine in the third and one of them was a double fault on that break point. But it wasn’t quite like that. Murray fought off more break points to hold in the next game and Murray’s resolve seemed to deflate Gasquet.
Gasuet hit two errors in succession to go down 0-3 in the third set tiebreaker. He fought back but then came the coup de grace and it was one of the best shots I’ve ever seen. On his first set point, Murray hit a short return that pulled Gasquet to the net. Murray followed that up with a short response and Gasquet hit a volley at such a sharp angle that Murray ended up teetering on the edge of the stands by the time the point was over. Before he got there, though, he flicked a backhand that went well behind Gasquet and ended up almost in the middle of the court.
I can’t remember anyone so visibly and expressively lift himself and everyone else in a stadium as Murray did in those last few games. If we end up looking at a very successful career when he retires, the image of his upturned howling head and the tangible desire after every saved break point will end up characterizing him as a player. And the comparison is compelling because here is Gasquet, who is just recovering from a bout of “why am I out here?” giving away a two set lead to someone who would never think to ask such a question.
Murray kept rolling. He broke Gasquet to go up 2-1 in the fourth set and actually started scorching a few ground strokes. He broke Gasquet one more time to win the set 6-2 but Gasquet didn’t go away. He fought off four break points before giving up a break in the first game of the fifth set and he fought off four more break points in the set. But he couldn’t break back and Murray had come through. This was the feature match as far as his home crowd was concerned and Murray not only got there but he played the match of his life to win it.
After Murray won the last point of the match, he lifted his sleeve and showed off his noticeable right bicep just to remind everyone that his strength and conditioning are just fine, thank you very much. Gasquet complained about the crowd noise and the dying light in the fifth set in what was a show of frustration more than anything, but his recovery is going well and I’d like to think that he’ll mature into his prodigious talent just as Murray seems to be figuring out how to play this game. If so, then we’ve just seen a preview of a rivalry waiting for us when the current Wimbledon rivalry has passed.