Parisian Pain: Murray gets whacked by hard-hitting Gonzalez

03 Jun 2009 by Matthew Zemek in French Open 2009

 Fernando GonzalezAndy Murray, who always feels at home on the hardcourts of the United States, did well to reach the quarterfinals of the 2009 French Open. However, when the world No. 3 cracked the round of 8 for the first time at Roland Garros, there was little he could do against a man with a golden gun.

Fernando Gonzalez shot down the hopes of British tennis fans on Tuesday. The 12th-seeded Chilean, displaying lethal one-handed groundstrokes from both wings, mashed Murray into the red dirt of Paris. Gonzalez overcame a second-set hiccup to throttle the third-seeded Scotsman, 6-3, 3-6, 6-0, 6-4, in a fairly tidy 2 hours and 15 minutes on Tuesday at Court Philippe Chatrier. Gonzalez advances to meet 23rd-seeded Robin Soderling in Friday’s semifinal round.

Before this tournament started, Gonzalez-despite his deceptively low seed-was the consensus pick of experts to reach the quarterfinals from his own section of the draw. Paired with seventh-seeded Frenchman Gilles Simon, who was laboring through a frankly awful season, Gonzalez figured to emerge from the round of 16 and play Murray in the quarters… if the 22-year-old Scot could get that far.

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Murray faced a stern test from Italy’s Potito Starace in the second round, but overcame a 5-2 third-set deficit to prevail in four sets. In the third round, Murray saw Janko Tipsarevic serve three times for the first set, but a reliance on defense-the centerpiece of Murray’s game-enabled the Scot to break three times, get to a tiebreak, and pull out the set, 7-6. Tipsarevic faded away, and Murray advanced to the fourth round in Paris for the first time in his career. In the round of 16, Murray sweated out another tiebreak against Croatia’s Marin Cilic, but a steadier and more composed game enabled the world No. 3 to march on to the quarters. Murray fought his way to four match wins in France, silencing the skeptics who doubted his credentials on clay.

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There would be no fifth scalp on Murray’s mantelpiece, however. Gonzalez was the one who bagged his prey on the terre battue of Roland Garros.

Clay might be a surface that rewards patience and endurance under most circumstances, but not for a gunslinger such as Gonzalez. “Gonzo” has always been a go-for-broke gambler who takes huge swings and seeks every opportunity to finish points quickly. While racing through four sets against Murray, Gonzalez didn’t adjust his playing style-victory depended on the South American’s ability to hit his shots with accuracy. The final scoreline indicates that the No. 12 seed succeeded in imposing his game on Murray.

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Gonzalez had one faulty service game in the second set, which allowed the third seed to break for 5-3 and eventually tie the match at a set apiece. Aside from that one lapse, Gonzo’s groundstrokes rang true from every angle on the court. Crushing his forehands and hitting through drive backhands, Gonzalez eschewed soft slices and made an effort to power the ball past the lighter-hitting but defensively superior Murray. The approach might have carried its fair share of risk against a terrific ball retriever on a relatively slower surface, but with a sun-baked Chatrier playing faster than normal (this reality also helped Robin Soderling upset Rafa Nadal on Sunday), Murray wasn’t able to run down most of Gonzo’s laser beams.

The proof of this dynamic lies in the numbers, which-for once-told a reasonably accurate story of the day’s events. While both men were virtually even in terms of unforced errors (Murray with 25, Gonzalez with 24), the Chilean fired off 45 winners to Murray’s 19. The all-out assault, with its consistency and its relentlessness, prevented the world No. 3 from getting much of a foothold in rallies. When Gonzalez broke Murray at love in the tenth game of the fourth set, he secured his second slam semifinal appearance.

The last time Fernando Gonzalez went this far in a major tournament, Chile’s Olympic hero (singles bronze in 2004, doubles gold in ’04, and singles silver in 2008 in Beijing) banged 42 winners and ceded just 3 unforced errors in the 2007 Australian Open semifinals against Tommy Haas. It will take a similarly supreme performance to slay giant-killing Robin Soderling, but if anyone has the ammunition needed to do the job, it’s Gonzalez. The man who knows how to pull the trigger on a full arsenal of devastating shots is now just one win away from a second Grand Slam final.

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