It is said that most matches at the highest level are won in the head rather than with the racket and Andy Murray proved the point with a stunning performance here last night. Recovering from a modest start, the world No 4 went on to crush Richard Gasquet 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 and book his place in the quarter-finals of the French Open with a stunning display of courageous shot-making.
Relishing the hostile atmosphere as the home crowd tried to get behind their man and unsettle Murray, the Scot reduced Gasquet to a mental wreck by the end of the match. On a chilly day when the soaring temperatures of last week were a distant memory you would have thought it was much too cold for a meltdown, but Gasquet once again showed that he lacks the mental strength to match his outstanding ability.
The world No 20 is a wonderfully talented player, but on the biggest occasions he can offer as much resistance as a crumbling croissant. For a Frenchman there is no greater stage than Court Philippe Chatrier and once again Gasquet cracked under pressure at his home Grand Slam tournament. Murray has lost to him three times at lesser events, but the Scot has come out on top in all four of their meetings at Grand Slam level.
"It was almost like playing a football match — and I like football," Murray said afterwards. "I enjoyed myself on the court today. It's the most fun I've had on the court in a while, so I wasn't shying away from the fact that the crowd wanted me to lose."
While Gasquet allowed himself to be distracted by what he appeared to think was play-acting by Murray – during a crucial game at the end of the second set the Scot repeatedly clutched his back as he had when he suffered from a back spasm against Jarkko Nieminen last week – his opponent remained admirably focused on his task. Murray, who was called a "drama queen" by Virginia Wade last week, said his back was "a little bit stiff, but much better than it was a few days ago".
Gasquet cursed his luck as Murray kept hitting the lines and did not like the Scot querying one call. The Frenchman shouted to his entourage, kicked an advertising hoarding and at the end offered Murray only the most cursory of handshakes.
"I didn't have the impression he was suffering that much — he wasn't injured," Gasquet said afterwards. "He was all over the place, always moving on the court, so I had the impression he was not really injured very much. He ran so much on the court. He was everywhere."
While Gasquet said Murray had been lucky, the Frenchman admitted that the Scot had played well. The final two sets saw the world No 4 at his best, playing with great imagination and skill and hitting a glorious array of drop shots, lobs, clever slices and rasping groundstrokes.
Nevertheless, such an outcome had seemed unlikely during a first set in which Gasquet struck the ball with real conviction while Murray struggled to find his rhythm. His game looked in decent shape, but the errors cost him dear as Gasquet took the set in 29 minutes with breaks of serve in the second and sixth games.
Despite making the first break in the second set, Gasquet hit back immediately, but the match turned with the score at 4-4. Murray faced two break points, but he held serve by going for his shots. The crowd voiced their displeasure when Murray challenged a line call, while Gasquet gestured disapprovingly as the Scot clutched his back in apparent pain.
By now Gasquet was starting to lose focus and at 4-5 he double-faulted on set point. Another double-fault on break point gave Murray a 2-0 lead in the third set, in which Gasquet won just nine points. Before the fourth set Gasquet changed his blue shirt for a red one. He might have hoped to do a Tiger Woods, but any prospect of that evaporated as Murray took the fourth set and with it the match in convincing fashion.
From here onwards, nevertheless, the tests will get much tougher for Murray. The three remaining players in his half of the draw are all Spaniards who have yet to drop a set. His quarter-final opponent tomorrow will be David Ferrer, who crushed another of his fellow countrymen, Marcel Granollers, 6-3, 6-2, 6-0. Ferrer has lost only 25 games in his first four matches and has won all three of his meetings with Murray on clay.
Rafael Nadal, meanwhile, has dropped six games fewer than Ferrer. The world No 2, who is aiming to win his seventh title here in eight years, took the last 17 games in a row in his 6-2, 6-0, 6-0 victory over Juan Monaco, who has won two clay-court titles this year. Nadal now meets Nicolas Almagro, who beat Janko Tipsarevic 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
FRENCH OPEN RESULTS
Roland Garros, Paris: Men's Singles Fourth round: (5) J-W Tsonga (Fr) bt (18) S Wawrinka (Swit) 6-4 7-6 (8-6) 3-6 3-6 6-4; (9) J M Del Potro (Arg) bt (7) T Berdych (Cz Rep) 7-6 (8-6) 1-6 6-3 7-5; (6) D Ferrer (Sp) bt (20) M Granollers (Sp) 6-3 6-2 6-0; (4) A Murray (GB) bt (17) R Gasquet (Fr) 1-6 6-4 6-1 6-2; (12) N Almagro (Sp) bt (8) J Tipsarevic (Serb) 6-4 6-4 6-4; (2) R Nadal (Sp) bt (13) J Monaco (Arg) 6-2 6-0 6-0.