Richard Gasquet insisted yesterday that he was under "no pressure at all" as he prepared to face Andy Murray today in the first round of the French Open in Paris.
You might have believed that from any other world No 68 who had just won his first title for three years, but Gasquet is a past master at melting in the heat of expectation from his own supporters, having won only four matches in six appearances at his home Grand Slam event. Given the soaring temperatures in Paris, the former world No 7 might need to send for the ice packs on Court Suzanne Lenglen this afternoon.
Gasquet's 13th match in 19 days ended in victory over Fernando Verdasco in Saturday's final of the Nice Open, but it came at a cost. He looked exhausted at the finish and needed treatment on his left knee and thigh, though he said afterwards that his only problem was tiredness. He curtailed his practice session yesterday after only 25 minutes.
The 23-year-old from Béziers had been hoping to pull some strings and delay his first match at Roland Garros in three years until tomorrow. However, that would have meant the winner having to play in the second round just 24 hours later, and instead the two men will be third on court this afternoon.
"It's hard to recover after a match like Saturday's, which was exhausting," Gasquet said yesterday. "I would prefer to play on Tuesday, but it's not a big problem. While I could be fresher I'm going into the match with a lot of confidence – as much confidence as I've had for a long time. I didn't play much last year. I've won a tournament now, so there is no pressure at all. I have no injuries either.
"Murray is the favourite. He's No 4 in the world. I have nothing to lose against him as he's one of the best players in the world. I'm very positive because I won [in Nice], but I'm terribly tired too."
This will be Gasquet's first match at the French Open for three years. He was injured in 2008 and missed last year while preparing his defence after failing a drugs test for cocaine. An independent tribunal decided that he had committed a doping offence but ruled that he should be freed to compete again after accepting his explanation that the drug had entered his system through kissing a woman in a nightclub.
Leon Smith, Britain's new head of tennis and Davis Cup captain, should be among those watching this afternoon's match. Smith coached Murray, who is 11 months younger than Gasquet, between the ages of 11 and 17, and was impressed by what he saw of the Frenchman during his junior days.
"We saw a bit of Gasquet growing up, but he jumped through the system quickly," Smith said. "He moved out of junior tennis at pace, but from the matches we saw he was incredibly talented. The backhand stood out a mile. He was one of the youngest guys to record a win on the tour.
"He's a good talent. Even though his ranking has dropped, he's still one of the most talented players on the tour. He's also a great athlete. He covers the court well, so he has many attributes apart from his hand skills."