Master Craftsman Gasquet Making Another Antwerp Title Run

Richard Gasquet (photo: Belga/European Open)

ANTWERP/WASHINGTON, October 19, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Richard Gasquet has been around the ATP Tour long enough to experience the emotional highs and lows that come from winning and losing. A former World No. 1 junior, the 36-year-old Frenchman from Béziers achieved a career-high ranking of No. 7 in 2007 and has been a year-end Top-10 player four times (in 2007, 2012-13, and in 2015).

Now ranked World No. 82 in his 21th season since turning pro in 2002, Gasquet owns 15 ATP Tour-level titles – all of them at 250 level – including the 2016 European Open crown. In the midst of a 23-17 tour-level win-loss record following his first-round win over Stan Wawrinka Monday evening, in which he saved three match points, Gasquet returned to Center Court at Lotto Arena Wednesday afternoon on Kids Day.

Over the course of two hours, the agile and athletic Gasquet taught a valuable lesson or two for his 20-year-old opponent, up-and-coming 136th-ranked Dominic Stricker of Switzerland, to absorb. The lessons of patience and mental fortitude – not to mention experience – are always valuable lessons to learn.

A master craftsman, Gasquet showed much resilience and proved he still has a bit of the youthful spark that has serve him well through much of his career. He beat the hard-hitting Stricker, 7-6 (6), 7-5, for his 24th victory of the season – and 586th of his career, most among Frenchmen in the Open Era – and another quarterfinal berth in Antwerp. Gasquet hit 28 winners to 11 unforced errors and withstood the attacking style of Stricker, who hit 50 winners but committed 32 unforced errors. He saved eight of 10 break points he faced, coverted three of seven against the Swiss qualifier, and outpointed his opponent 94-83. The victory lifted Gasquet to his sixth tour-level quarterfinal of 2022, equaling his performances earlier this season at Montpellier, Marrakech, Estoril, Geneva and Winston-Salem.

“Yes, I think played a great match today. I was a bit lucky [Monday] but it gave me a lot of confidence for today,” Gasquet said in his on-court interview. “I had nothing to lose. I played really well. Dominic is a great player – he has a big serve – but I just played my best tennis to win.”

On Friday, Gasquet will face either No. 3 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina or Belgium’s David Goffin, who play Thursday afternoon.

“I’m feeling great – I have no injuries,” Gasquet saddled. “I’ve won here and I know the court very well. I like to play in these the conditions. I’ll try my best to make the semis and why not go further?”

Hurkacz bests Draper in a survival of the fittest

Both top seed Hubert Hurkacz and No. 48 Jack Draper of Great Britain hobbled to the finish line of their two-hour, 40-minute second-round match Wednesday evening, which the World No. 11 from Poland won, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 6-1, to reach Friday’s quarterfinals.

Deadlocked at a set each, Hurkacz took a medical time out after the first game in the final set to get treatment on his right Achilles and to have it wrapped. Soon after, the 20-year-old Draper began suffering from leg cramps that affected his health and well-being. He gutted out his service game in the fourth game by relying on his upper body strength – and actually hit an ace. Then, at the changeover, down 1-3, he received a visit from the physio. While the crowd that remained at Lotto Arena would have forgiven him if he had decided to retire, Draper decided to gut it out. Although he lost the battle to Hurkacz, he won many admirers and stayed on court to sign autographs.

Meanwhile, by the completion of their battle, Hurkacz had amassed 22 aces and hit 55 winners while making just 19 unforced errors. He won 83 percent of his first-serve points, was broken just once and converted three of 12 break-point chances against Draper, who countered with 31 winners but committed 21 unforced errors. Hurkacz outpointed Draper 118-96.

“My Achilles was hurting a little bit, but I managed to battle through the pain,” Hurkacz said in his on-court interview. “Definitely, Jack was hurting at the end. It’s really to tough to play when you’re not feeling 100 percent. … [Overall,] I’m happy with my performance today.”

Despite bowing out from Antwerp, earlier in the day, Draper received good news. He qualified for the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals, the first Briton to earn a berth in the history of the 21-and-under season-ending event.

As for Hurkacz, he remains ninth in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race to Turin. His next match will be against either No. 6 seed Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina or unseeded Dominic Thiem of Austria, who face off on Thursday.

Evans reaches fifth tour-level quarterfinal of season

If it were up to Great Britain’s Daniel Evans, his choice would be to always play against French opponents. Lately, he been unbeatable against Les Bleus.

After defeating No. 69 Constant Lestienne of France, 6-2, 6-1, in an economical 74 minutes Wednesday afternoon to reach his fifth tour-level quarterfinal of 2022, the sixth-seeded Evans had boosted his winning streak against the Francophones to six. Two of those wins have come against Lestienne, whom Evans matches up well against and beat in the San Diego quarterfinals in straight sets last month. His last setback to a French player was to Richard Gasquet in summer 2021.

Against Lestienne, the No. 26 Evans won 82 percent of his first-serve points, hit 18 winners and broke him five times. It all added up to the Briton’s 27thtour-level win of the season. Lestienne was attempting to advance his third tour-level quarterfinal after reaching the last eight at San Diego and Tel Aviv last month.

“It was a very tough match. At the end, he said we play similar, very much the same,” Evans, 32, said in his on-court interview, in describing the 30-year-old Lestienne’s style. “He’s right. It was a tight match, very small margins. The break points at the start of the match were very important.”

On Friday, Evans will play either World No. 10 and second seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada or 148th-ranked lucky loser Manuel Guinard of France. Guinard defeated countryman and 147th-ranked lucky loser Geoffrey Blancaneaux, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Evans was asked about the prospect of facing Auger-Aliassime, who won last week’s title at the UniCredit Firenze Open in Florence to climb into the Top 10. He said: “That’s why you play tennis, to play the best guys in the world. It will be a good match regardless of what happens. I’ll enjoy it and have a lot of fun.”

Malisse comes out of retirement, again, to play doubles

Belgium’s Xavier Malisse retired in 2013 after a 16-year pro career in which he won three ATP Tour singles titles and nine doubles titles. He was a Top 25 player in both singles and doubles, reaching World No. 19 in singles and No. 25 in doubles.

On Tuesday evening, the 42-year-old Belgian great, who returned to the European Open last year teamed with South Africa’s Lloyd Harris, resurfaced in his home country with Diego Schwartzman of Argentina after receiving a wild card into the doubles draw.

Malisse and Schwartzman garnered a 7-6 (4), 7-5 win over Raven Klaasen of South Africa and Marcelo Melo of Brazil to advance to the quarterfinal round. Malisse and Schwartzman came from down 3-5 in the second set and won the final four games of the match, saving four set points along the way.

In their next match, Malisse and Schwartzman will oppose Dutch duo Botic van de Zandschulp and Tallon Griekspoor, who upset the No. 1 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, both of Colombia, 6-2, 7-5, earlier Tuesday.

Around the European Open

Dominic Thiem of Austria dominated his European Open premiere at the expense of Belgium’s Michael Geerts, who was making his Antwerp main-draw debut as a wild card in his hometown tournament. In front of an enthusiastic Lotto Arena crowd, who cheered appreciatively for both competitors, Thiem played confidently and was nearly flawless in his 6-4, 6-0 win over the 268th-ranked Geerts. He won the final eight games of the 69-minute first-round match that was featured on Center Court Wednesday evening.

The 132nd-ranked Thiem, who is striving to return to the Top 100 by the end of the season and is coming off a semifinal run at Gijón last week, took a step forward in his quest as he hit 18 winners and made just eight unforced errors. He dropped just five points on his first serve and faced no break points from the 27-year-old Geerts while converting four of five opportunities. Thiem outpointed his overmatched opponent, who was appearing in just his third career tour-level match, 55-29, to move into the second round Thursday against No. 6 seed Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina.

“I’m very happy with my performance,” the 29-year-old said on court in his post-match interview. “It’s never easy in the first match against a home-crowd favorite, you know?

“He was starting very well, keeping a close first set. I was very happy with the conditions here and the way I was playing. As I said, I’m super happy to win this first match here. Every win is very important for me. It’s a great start in the tournament.”

• In an all-American battle, 36th-ranked Sebastian Korda rallied to beat No. 60 Marcos Giron, 6-3, 6-7 (0), 6-4, to advance to Thursday’s second round against No. 4 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia. The Gijón Open finalist hit 37 winners and converted four of seven break points against Giron in their first tour-level meeting.

• No. 8 seed Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan advanced to the quarterfinal round with a 6-1, 7-6 (3) win over No. 55 Jaume Munar of Spain. The 39th-ranked Nishioka saved the only break point he faced and converted four of seven break-point chances against Munar. He will face the Khachanov- Korda winner on Friday

• Doubles No. 2 seeds Rohan Bopanna of India and Matwe Middelkoop of the Netherlands rallied to eliminate Belgium’s Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 10-4. Next, they will face British duo Daniel Evans and Jonny O’Mara in the quarterfinals.

Meanwhile, No. 4 seeds Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, both of France, advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-7 (2), 6-4, 10-7 win over Americans Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow. The French duo, who have won five straight tour-level matches, are coming off a title performance in Florence on Sunday.

Wednesday’s European Open results

Thursday’s European Open order of play

By the numbers

Dominic Thiem has won his opening match in eight of his last nine tour-level tournaments since starting the year 0-6 on tour-level.

“Quotable …”

“It’s nice to be a bit closer to home. We’ve been away all year – it’s been a long year. It’s a little bit more comfortable [being] closer to England. I’m really enjoy Antwerp, I’m playing good as well. It’s all good.”

– No. 5 seed Daniel Evans of Great Britain, talking about why he likes play in Antwerp.