NEW YORK — There has never been a question about Richard Gasquet’s talent. A prodigy with a racket in his hand, he was splashed across the cover of a French tennis magazine at 9.
At 16, he was the world’s top-ranked junior player. And five years after turning pro, his ranking soared to No. 7.
But Gasquet’s toughness and stomach for a fight, particularly in five-set matches, has been questioned so many times that the Frenchman’s name has fallen from conversations about the world’s top players in recent years without anyone really noticing.
Here at the U.S. Open, however, Gasquet has made himself relevant once again, gutting out back-to-back five-set victories over two top-10 seeds to reach the semifinals of the tournament for the first time. It’s the first time he has reached the semifinals of any major in six years, since Wimbledon in 2007, his best season to date.
“It’s a big victory for me,” Gasquet said, referring to his 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3 upset of fourth-seeded David Ferrer, who is regarded as one of the more relentless competitors in tennis, on a par with his Spanish compatriot Rafael Nadal.
Gasquet, seeded eighth, could just as easily have been speaking about his second-week renaissance at the U.S. Open, with Wednesday’s victory coming one round after his 4-hour 40-minute clash with big-serving Milos Raonic of Canada. Three of the match’s five sets were settled by tiebreaks. Gasquet prevailed, 7-5 in the fifth.
Few would have tipped Gasquet as the victor Wednesday, given his 1-8 record against Ferrer. But he strode onto the court the more confident and brave man, serving well and painting the court with beautiful one-handed backhand winners down the line.
His energy waned in the third and fourth sets, while Ferrer settled into his familiar groove of relentlessly firing back every ball blasted his way.
But Gasquet dug in for the fifth set and closed by whipping a forehand winner with such spin that it seemed to take a hard left turn out of the court, well beyond Ferrer’s grasp.
Gasquet’s reward is a meeting with Nadal, who utterly overwhelmed fellow Spaniard Tommy Robredo on Wednesday night, 6-0, 6-2, 6-2, to earn a spot in the semifinals. Nadal hit 28 winners to 15 unforced errors, was nearly flawless at net and broke Robredo seven times.
Nadal, who did not face a single break point and has not lost a service game all tournament, ran his hard-court record this season to 20-0. Nadal also has yet to lose any match as a pro to Gasquet, a good friend against whom he is 10-0.
That doesn’t mean the Spaniard’s record is spotless. Gasquet won when they met for the first time on the European junior circuit, when both were 13.
There’s a video of the match on YouTube, Gasquet pointed out, which he enjoys watching from time to time.
“I can see I’m winning against him!” Gasquet said with a laugh. “I don’t believe it sometimes.”
Earlier Wednesday, unseeded Flavia Pennetta upset 10th-seeded Roberta Vinci in an all-Italian women’s quarterfinal, 6-4, 6-1, in a swift 65 minutes. Vinci struggled with her serve, getting broken six times, and sprayed far too many errant shots, finishing with 28 unforced errors to Pennetta’s 17.
Pennetta will play second-seeded Victoria Azarenka, last year’s runner-up, who eased past Daniela Hantuchova, 6-2, 6-3.