When Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton uttered the immortal words “Talent does what it can; genius does what it must” he probably didn’t have Richard Gasquet in mind.
Gasquet of course is the now 31-year-old child prodigy from Beziers of whom great things were once expected. A player who was gracing the cover of France’s Tennis Magazine as a lanky nine-year-old infant. A player of flawless technique whose backhand remains arguably the finest shot ever unfurled in anger on a tennis court.
When he burst onto the scene as a precocious teenager at the 2005 Monte Carlo Masters and beat then world No 1 Roger Federer in an epic, it looked as though his genial talent was about to take the ATP by storm.
Somehow it never quite played out that way, with a couple of semi-final showings at Wimbledon and the US Open a pretty paltry return given his outlandish technical gifts. There is still time of course but Gasquet, a sensitive soul, has never really done it on the big stage.
However, at the Open Sud de France in recent years it’s been a different story. In the last five years he has won the ATP World Tour 250 event three times (2013, 2015, 2016) and made two finals.
His game looked in good order when winning his opening singles rubber in France’s Davis Cup clash against Netherlands over the weekend and the fifth seed could be the man to keep onside this week.
He opens his campaign against Daniil Medvedev, a young Russian sharp-shooter who was a surprise winner at the Sydney International earlier this year. The pair have never met but Gasquet, roared on by a partisan Montpellier crowd, should be too seasoned on a court he has made his own in recent years.
Alexander Zverev won’t be around to defend the title he won last year (beating Gasquet in a high-quality final) while top seed David Goffin has so far failed to hit the heights in 2018 he reached at the back end of last season. He will also likely start his campaign with a tricky looking test against wily veteran Gilles Simon.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is the betting jolly but he’s done absolutely nothing in recent months to suggest he should be favourite in France. With this in mind Gasquet, who is tried and tested at this venue, gets the nod from us at 5/1.
In Bulgaria the big news is 2017 champion Grigor Dimitrov has withdrawn from the Sofia Open, with the local favourite citing a shoulder problem. It’s the worst news possible for organisers, who would have been banking on Dimitrov to fill the Arena Armeec Sofia.
He has been replaced as top seed by Stan Wawrinka, but the Swiss has injury concerns of his own after only recently recovering from a knee problem. He never looked convincing at the Australian Open as he was well beaten by Tennys Sandgren in the second round, and until Stan proves he is one hundred per cent fit he looks one to swerve.
Second seed Adrian Mannarino could be the man to profit from a weak looking draw and the Frenchman could be worth a play at 8/1. Mannarino was another involved in Davis Cup duty over the weekend as he came through a gruelling battle with Robin Haase in five sets on Sunday.
He made the final of an ATP 500 event in Japan last year (beating Marin Cilic en route) so the leftie won’t be losing any sleep at the prospect facing players such as Marcos Baghdatis, Gilles Muller or a potentially off the pace Wawrinka this week.
There is also ATP action from Ecuador but with Pablo Carreno Busta looking plenty short in the betting a watching brief is advised in South America.
Bilko’s Banker: Gasquet to win the Open Sud de France at 5/1 (Stan James)
Best of the Rest: Mannarino to win the Sofia Open at 8/1 (Ladbrokes)
By Deggsy Bilton
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