PARIS: Andy Murray and defending champion Stan Wawrinka set up a mouthwatering French Open semi-final duel yesterday as Novak Djokovic became the first player to smash the $100 million prize money barrier. Second seed Murray reached the semi-finals in Paris for a fourth time by battling back to defeat the last home hope Richard Gasquet 5-7, 7-6 (7/3), 6-0, 6-2.
Wawrinka, the 31-year-old third seed, became the oldest man since 1985 to reach the semi-finals with a 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (9/7) win over Spain’s Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Gasquet, bidding to end France’s 33-year-wait for a French champion, reeled off five straight games to recover from 5-2 down and claim the opening set in front of a raucous Philippe Chatrier Court crowd. But former US Open and Wimbledon champion Murray won a second set tie-break before claiming 12 of the next 14 games.
Murray leads his head-to-head 8-7 with Wawrinka but the Swiss star has won their last three meetings as well as their only two matches on clay. “Stan’s played great tennis here the past couple years. It’s going to be extremely tough, hopefully I can play my best tennis and try and reach my first final here,” said Murray after a third win in Paris over Gasquet. Wawrinka is the oldest semi-finalist in Paris since 32-year-old Jimmy Connors in 1985. He was in complete control against world number 55 Ramos-Vinolas, playing in his first quarter-finals at the majors, firing an impressive 49 winners. “Overall, I played a good match with an incredible level in the first two sets,” said Wawrinka.
“I had to dig deep to finish the match. To win in three sets, it’s ideal.” Wawrinka, who beat Djokovic in last year’s final, will be playing in only his second Roland Garros semi-final. Top seed Djokovic reached the quarter-finals for the 10th time by defeating 14th seeded Roberto Bautista Agut 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-5. It was a tie which started the previous afternoon after rain disruptions had washed out Monday and allowed just two hours of play Tuesday. The 29-year-old Serb will today take on Czech seventh seed Tomas Berdych, who beat Spanish 11th seed David Ferrer 6-3, 7-5, 6-3.
Djokovic has a 23-2 career stranglehold on Berdych who will be playing in his third Roland Garros quarter-final. It will be the top seed’s 28th consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final and 36th in all. Djokovic also crossed the $100 million prize money barrier yesterday. He started the tournament with $99,673,404 and the 294,000 euros ($328,303) he earned by beating Bautista Agut took him past the landmark figure. Djokovic, seeking a first French Open title to complete a career Grand Slam, was 4-1 ahead of Bautista Agut in the third set Tuesday when play was halted.
But the Serb quickly wrapped up the next two games yesterday and despite falling a break down to trail 2-4 in the fourth, he stormed back to claim victory on a second match point. “With my coaching team, we had some tough talks on Tuesday night,” said Djokovic, who had struggled in the heavy conditions when he had uncharacteristically dropped serve five times. “But I came back with more intensity even though it was a tough mental and physical battle.” Austria’s Dominic Thiem advanced to his maiden Grand Slam quarter-final with a 6-2, 6-7 (2/7), 6-1, 6-4 win over Spain’s Marcel Granollers.
Granollers had made the last 16 without hitting a ball when nine-time champion Rafael Nadal withdrew with a wrist injury last week. Rain halted play at one set apiece on Tuesday, but 13th seed Thiem quickly found his groove yesterday to race through the third set before nailing down a place in the last eight. The 22-year-old will next meet Belgian 12th seed David Goffin who saw off Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 in another match held over from Tuesday. “We practice a lot together and he’s also a very nice guy,” said Thiem, who trails Goffin 4-2 including a loss at the Australian Open this year. Goffin is only the second Belgian man to reach the last eight in Paris.- AFP