Kei Nishikori Vs Richard Gasquet Roland Garros Fourth Round Preview
Roland Garros’ fourth round features the last remaining French player in the draw and a Japanese star expected to one day win a slam. The Tennis Review previews what could end up being the match of the day in Paris.
Kei Nishikori only recently solved the problem posed by Richard Gasquet. The Japanese’s 7-5, 6-4 defeat of the Frenchman in Madrid this season- their first contest on Clay- was the first time he had beaten him after six defeats, defeats which went all the way back to 2008 until Paris-Bercy last season.
A week later, in Rome, Nishikori inflicted a 6-1, 6-4 defeat on Gasquet suggesting he had not only solved the problem, but mastered it.
For now, anyway.
Head to heads can go out the window when it comes to five set matches at slams. Especially on a surface on which both men have such good offensive and defensive skills.
This match, like all fourth rounders at slams between well matched players, will come down to who handles the pressure the best.
Both men have different, but just as tough, pressures on them.
Nishikori has the pressure of winning his first slam. The world No.6 is one of just a few players touted as future slam winners, but, at the age of 26, Nishikori is no longer a ‘Young Gun’, and with young players like Thiem, aged 22, and Kyrgios, 20, getting better all the time, fulfilling those slam champion expectations is not going to get any easier. In fact, with Federer and Nadal absent, Djokovic with the greatest pressure of them all, Murray having played two five setters in his opening rounds, and Stan Wawrinka being Stan Wawrinka, this could be Nishikori’s best ever shot at that first slam title win.
Gasquet can relate to the slam-winning pressure on his rival- the Frenchman was tipped to be a slam champion early on in his career, pressure which, in the age of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic, he could never live up to.
Those days are long gone for the one time child prodigy who turns 30 next month. Gasquet is now in a much more attractive situation- still playing well enough to be a regular feature in the top ten (though he dropped out of the top ten to 12 last week) and relatively under the radar on a circuit where being over 30, with the experience and physical strength that comes with that, is an advantage, and one he may be able to work in his favor versus Nishikori.
Gasquet, though, does have one unenviable pressure on him- the pressure of being the last French player left in the tournament’s singles draws.
Gasquet has never been past the fourth round of the French Open, and this is his fifth time at that stage in his last six appearances. The closest he has been to getting through was in 2013 when he lost 8-6 in the fifth to Stan Wawrinka.
Playing in front of a home crowd should be a plus, but not always in France. The French crowd may only support him as long as he performs- Gasquet will know only too well, having grown up watching the likes of Mary Pierce booed by the crowd, and from his own exits at the tournament, including letting a two sets to love lead versus Andy Murray slip from his grasp in 2010, if he slips up this time, the French crowd may not be there to help him back up and clean his wounds.
Nishikori will never understand what the pressure of playing in a slam in front a home crowd feels like, but he is not completely free from the pressures of a country eager to have a slam winning tennis champion. Nishikori’s matches are broadcast on terrestrial TV back home and plenty of home fans will be tuning in now that he is once again a favorite in Paris after some impressive recent form, notably in his semi-final defeat to Novak Djokovic in Rome.
As if slam winning expectations and those of the home crowd are not enough, this will also be the biggest match they have played by far, their first match at a slam. Six of their eight matches have been in last sixteens, one in the last 32, and one in the last eight, in Washington 2014.
A fourth round match for a place in the last eight of a slam, a contest between a highly ranked home player and a tournament favorite, slam tennis does not get much better, or much more pressure filled than this. Nishikori should be the one who puts up with it the better. On a surface which complements his aggressive baseline game more than it does Gasquet’s all court one, the Japanese is likely to come through in a nervy, dramatic and fascinating encounter.
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