Perennial grand slam title contenders Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray were joined in the French Open quarter-finals by two unfamiliar faces on Sunday as the Parisian clay continued to turn up unexpected plot lines.
It was no surprise to see Swiss title holder Wawrinka beat Viktor Troicki although it took a while for the third seed to subdue the Serb 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (9-7) 6-3 6-2.
Murray’s 7-6 (11-9) 6-4 6-3 defeat of John Isner was entirely predictable, even if the second seed had to save three set points in the opener before extending his career record over the towering American to 6-0 in clinical fashion.
Three-times semi-finalist Murray will play Richard Gasquet, the sole surviving French singles player, who had the crowd in raptures on Court Philippe Chatrier with a scintillating 6-4 6-2 4-6 6-2 win over Japanese fifth seed Kei Nishikori.
Ninth-seeded Gasquet, 29, collapsed joyously on his back after sealing victory and a long-overdue place in the last eight of his home grand slam for the first time in 13 attempts.
“The crowd put the pressure on him,” Gasquet said on court as the crowd chanted ‘Richard, Richard’. “It was probably not easy for him to play with that crowd.”
He will need them in full voice again against Murray.
“Obviously, the atmosphere (against Gasquet) will be tough, but I don’t mind that,” said Murray. “I played a number of times against French players here in difficult atmospheres and I managed okay.”
Two other players advanced to the second week of a grand slam for the first time.
Who would have thought a left-hander named Albert Ramos-Vinolas, rather than nine-times French Open champion Rafael Nadal, would be leading the Spanish men’s challenge.
But that is the reality after Nadal pulled out with a damaged left wrist on Friday and Ramos-Vinolas, a first-round loser for the last four years, crushed eighth-seeded Canadian Milos Raonic 6-2 6-4 6-4 on a damp, murky day in the capital.
Fifty-fifth ranked Ramos-Vinola’s reward for his endeavour is a last-eight clash with Wawrinka.
Wawrinka and Murray are also looking ominously in the groove as they move towards a likely semi-final showdown.
The Swiss, taken to five sets in the first round, is on an eight-match winning streak on clay having claimed the Geneva title in the build-up, while Murray made it nine in a row against Isner, having won the title in Rome.
The best might be yet to come.
“I know that I may be able to tighten a few nuts and bolts here and there, to improve even more,” said Wawrinka, who charmed the crowd by hitting with a ball boy during a break in play.