By John Delong, Winston-Salem Open
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Richard Gasquet’s goal is to continue building momentum at the Winston-Salem Open as the week progresses.
It was mission accomplished on Wednesday afternoon as the tournament’s top seed cruised to a convincing 6-1, 6-3 third-round victory over Stephane Robert.
The 30-year-old Frenchman needed only one hour and six minutes to dispatch his countryman and move into quarterfinal action on Thursday against John Millman.
“I was very pleased with the way I played,” Gasquet said. “I had a tough first-round match but I was feeling better today because it’s always difficult to play the first round. I’ve known Stephane for a long time now and I know how dangerous he can be, so I’m very happy to be in the quarterfinals here.”
Gasquet received a first-round bye as the top seed and had opened with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 second-round win over Daniel Evans on Monday night. That match took two hours and 28 minutes, so Gasquet was obviously pleased to get off the court quickly Wednesday.
“It’s very humid on the court, it’s very hot, so it’s always better to play one hour than three hours,” Gasquet said. “It’s very, very difficult to play against him. He plays close to the baseline and plays really good, really fast. But I think I played well. I was very good on the court. I served well, I moved well, overall I didn’t do many mistakes from the baseline, so it’s a great victory.”
Gasquet, who is currently ranked No. 15 in the ATP World Tour rankings, was playing just his fourth match in the last six weeks after being forced to retire in the fourth round at Wimbledon because of back problems. He only returned to the tour last week in Cincinnati and went out in the second round there.
His goal from the start, he said, was to get as many matches under his belt as possible before heading to New York for next week’s US Open.
“The longer you play, the better you are playing, the better you feel physically, because you are running, you are fighting on the court,” Gasquet said. “I need it. When you are not on tour it is very difficult to come back. That’s why I need matches. That’s why I came here and now I’m in the quarterfinals. So everything is progressing well.”
Robert, who came into the tournament ranked No. 52, had beat Paul-Henri Mathieu and 13th-seeded Federico Delbonis in his first two matches. He said he was impressed with Gasquet’s form.
“He’s playing good,” Robert said. “He’s solid. I was surprised actually today because he was doing a lot of different things. He was defending. He was attacking. He was doing drop shots. He was doing everything. I was surprised because the last time I was playing fast and putting pressure on him, but this time I had to defend a lot. So he looked pretty solid to me.”
In other third-round matches on Wednesday afternoon,16th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta knocked off third-seeded Pablo Cuevas 6-3, 7-6 (1), Yen-Hsun Lu beat Diego Schwartzman 6-4, 6-0, and 12th-seeded Andrey Kuznetsov advanced when Jiri Vesely was forced to retire, with the players on serve at 5-5 in the first set.
Cuevas, currently ranked No. 20 after two clay-court titles earlier this year, became the ninth seeded player to exit when he lost to Carreno Busta for the first time in his career.
“Carreno is a top player and today he played so fast, very aggressive,” Cuevas said. “I had chances in the second, but the tie-break I played bad. It was not a good day for me today. I think the condition is so quick here and I didn’t have a very good feeling with the ball, so I didn’t have a very good feeling today.”
Lu, currently ranked No. 72, is back in the quarterfinals for the fourth straight year at the WSO. He reached the semifinals in 2014 before losing to eventual champion Lukas Rosol, and was a quarterfinalist in both 2012 and 2015.
Lu said he loves coming to Winston-Salem and considers it the perfect preparation for the US Open. That said, he’s still a bit surprised by his continued success here. His all-time record at the WSO is 13-3.
“I have played good tennis here in the last four years,” the 33-year-old from Taipei said. “I don’t know why, but probably I am trying to be more relaxed before Open. You are not really putting pressure on yourself because next week is the biggest goal. You want to win, but you don’t put too much pressure on yourself. So maybe that’s the key point, being more relaxed and playing more free.”