The French Open represents the pinnacle of clay-court tennis, yet the best player from across the Channel feels more at home on l'herbe than he does on terre battue. Richard Gasquet, Andy Murray's next opponent, has never gone beyond the third round at Roland Garros, but the 22-year-old Frenchman, who has won two of his five titles on grass, is through to the second week of Wimbledon for the third time in four years.
A semi-finalist here 12 months ago, Gasquet earned his place in the fourth round with a 6-3 6-3 6-7 6-3 win yesterday over his fellow Frenchman, Gilles Simon. If the world No 10 is not at the top of his game, he is at least playing himself into form.
Gasquet won the first two sets with something to spare and did not look in any trouble until he played a poor tie-break at the end of the third. Simon promptly took a 2-0 lead at the start of the fourth, but Gasquet steadied the ship and won the last five games. Hitting 55 winners in the match, his grass-court game looked in good shape.
Looking ahead to his match against Murray tomorrow, Gasquet said: "It's a great match for me to play. It will be fun to play him on Centre Court. Andy's a great player, a great guy."
Gasquet has held on to his top-10 ranking despite an indifferent first six months of the year, in which his best run was at Queen's Club a fortnight ago, when he lost to David Nalbandian in the quarter-finals. Injuries have not helped, but he has also appeared to struggle with the pressures of being the French No 1.
After causing a stir when he refused to play a crucial Davis Cup rubber against the United States, saying he was unfit, Gasquet ended a miserable clay-court season by withdrawing from the French Open with a knee injury shortly before his first match.
"I'm feeling great now," Gasquet said. "I have no injuries, which is the most important thing for me. I've been able to practise for the last month, which I couldn't do on clay because of my knee.
"This is a great tournament. I like playing on grass here and I'm ready for the second week. I'm not playing my best tennis, but step by step I'm playing well. I fight, I'm serving well and everything is possible in this tournament."
A Frenchman of an older vintage, Arnaud Clément, is also through to the last 16. In his dark glasses and purple bandana the 30-year-old former world No 10 might have looked more at home at Glastonbury than on Court 18, but he soon called the tune against Austria's Jürgen Melzer and won 4-6 6-3 6-4 6-4.
Rainer Schüttler, the oldest man left in the competition at 32, also rolled back the years to beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-2 6-3 6-4. Schüttler was playing in the Australian Open final five years ago, but the German's career had appeared to be in freefall when he dropped to No 155 in the rankings after Wimbledon last year. In recent months the former world No 5 has been reduced to playing Challenger tournaments in venues as far apart as Puerto Rico and Poland.
Having got his ranking up high enough to sneak back into the main draw here, Schüttler then beat James Blake, the world No 8, over five sets in the second round. Yesterday's victory over Garcia-Lopez, a Spaniard ranked No 104 in the world, equalled Schüttler's best ever run at the All England Club in his annus mirabilis of 2003. That was the year when the German beat Richard Krajicek, Marat Safin, Blake, Nalbandian and Andy Roddick on his way to the Australian Open final before losing to Andre Agassi. Injuries and glandular fever (mononucleosis) have subsequently taken their toll, but Schüttler has always refused to throw in the towel.
Had he ever considered retirement? "A couple of times," Schüttler admitted yesterday, "After the mononucleosis I didn't know whether I would still be able to play and it took a while to recover." The German now plays his good friend, Janko Tipsarevic, who is keeping the Serbian flag flying following Novak Djokovic's exit. Having beaten Roddick in the previous round, Tipsarevic disposed of another of the game's big hitters, Dmitry Tursunov, winning 7-6 7-6 6-3. There were no breaks of serve in the first two sets, but Tipsarevic took a 3-0 lead in the third and finished the match in style with his 13th ace.