Richard Gasquet kept his ATP World Tour finals hopes alive when he overcame Fernando Verdasco 7-5, 6-7 (6/8), 6-3 to reach the third round of the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris, as fellow Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga crashed out of the race on Tuesday.
Ninth seed Gasquet, who is enjoying his best season since he reached the last four at Wimbledon and a career-high world No. 7 spot in 2007, looks set to grab one of the three remaining tickets to next week’s season-ending London event.
For a place in the last eight, Gasquet will take on Japanese Kei Nishikori, who ended local favorite Tsonga’s hopes by prevailing 1-6, 7-6 (4/8), 7-6 (7), after saving two match points.
World No. 2 Novak Djokovic started his campaign with a routine second-round 7-6 (3/7), 6-3 win over French qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
The Serb staved off two set points in the opening stanz, then stepped up a gear and never looked back. He next faces either the US’ John Isner or Poland’s Michal Przysiezny.
Gasquet has been nursing a thigh pain as the end of a long season looms.
“It hurts sometimes, but it’s not very serious. I played 2 hours and 45 minutes today, and I saw that I could play, although I was not at 100 percent,” the world No. 10 told a news conference. “It was tough to play a long match like this.”
Gasquet, who reached the US Open semi-finals in September, refuses to put pressure on himself.
“I had a good season. I’m very happy with what I did. I will not have a lot of pressure for this match. It’s sort of a gift for me to be here,” he said.
The Frenchman did not exactly shine in front of his home crowd, looking far from his attacking self in a 2 hour, 41 minute tussle and allowing Verdasco to put him on the back foot too often.
The Spaniard, who had won six of their past seven encounters, saved 14 of 18 break points, but Gasquet’s superb single-handed backhand eventually made the difference.
Gasquet wrapped the victory up on his fifth match point when Verdasco, an Australian Open semi-finalist in 2009, returned long.
Five players — Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, David Ferrer, Juan Martin del Potro and Tomas Berdych — have already secured their places at the ATP World Tour finals in England.
Britain’s Andy Murray, third in the ATP Race to London, has withdrawn because he is still recovering from back surgery, meaning the ninth-ranked player will qualify for the O2 event.
Swiss Roger Federer, who is seventh in the race, will qualify if he wins his first match at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy after a bye into the second round.
Compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka and Gasquet started the week in eighth and ninth place respectively.
Tsonga, who now cannot improve on his 10th place, came out firing against Nishikori, punishing the Japanese with his booming forehand.
He inexplicably lost focus in the second set, falling 4-1 behind. Although he managed to force a tiebreak, a string of unforced errors threw the match into a decider, which Nishikori won when his opponent double-faulted on match point.
TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
Ana Ivanovic and Simona Halep cruised to straight-set victories on Tuesday in their opening round-robin matches at the season-ending WTA Tournament of Champions in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Top-seeded Halep of Romania beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia 6-3, 6-3 in the Serdika Group, while the other tournament favorite, Ivanovic, routed Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova 6-0, 6-2 in the Sredets Group.