The Open Sud de France, held in Montpellier since 2010, has been a French dominated event. Since the move at least one Frenchman has featured in every final, and only Tomas Berdych and Alexander Zverev have managed to defy the tricolour. This year it will reign supreme once again over Montpellier as two stalwarts of the French tennis scene face off in the shape of Lucas Pouille and Richard Gasquet. But which man will win?
Gasquet and Pouille have met four times so far in their careers, including once in Montpellier. That was, in fact, their first match, coming back in 2015. Gasquet had the better of Pouille then, defeating the younger man 6-3 7-6 in the second round. Since then though, Pouille has had much the better of proceedings. He levelled the head-to-head in a hard fought three set win at the Rogers Cup in 2016, coming back from a set down to win 4-6 7-5 6-1.
He scored another win against Gasquet in the Marseille semifinals last year, winning 7-5 6-3 in an impressive performance. He picked up his third win against Gasquet during his run to the title in Vienna last year, downing his countryman in the quarterfinals 7-6 6-1. However, Gasquet is contesting his sixth straight Montpellier final, and is a four-time champion at the event (including title won in Lyon). Pouille, in contrast, has never before made the final in the south of France.
Path to the final
Lucas Pouille, the second seed, received a first round bye and thus began his campaign in the second round. There he faced Taberner of Spain who he brushed aside for the loss of just three games in a dominant win. Pouille then defeated his eccentric compatriot Benoit Paire 6-4 6-1, as he proved too consistent for the older man. That left him facing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for a place in the final. Tsonga began well, and Pouille swiftly lost the first set, but Tsonga’s power began to wane in the second set and Pouille worked his way back into it until a hamstring injury forced Tsonga’s retirement at 5-5.
Gasquet’s tournament began in the first round against Daniil Medvedev who he defeated comfortably 6-0 6-3. He was made to work considerably harder against Pierre Hugues Herbert, one of the world’s best doubles players. Ultimately, however, Gasquet had enough to get past Herbert, winning 7-6 5-7 6-3 to reach the last eight. There he defeated Bosnia’s Damir Dzumhur in an impressive straight sets win.
Awaiting him in the semifinals was top seed and world #7 David Goffin, who last year reached the final at the O2. Gasquet made the better start with one break in his favour deciding the opening set. But in the second set Goffin fought back magnificently, and Gasquet was routed. The Belgian won it to love to set up an intriguing decider. But there he seemed to just run out of steam as Gasquet, buoyed by the support of the home crowd, sealed a 6-4 0-6 6-3 win to return to the Montpellier final.
How do they match up?
Both men are high quality ball strikers. Gasquet, particularly, possesses one of the finest one-handed backhands the game has to offer, and he is able to strike it for winners both cross court and down the line. His forehand, however, is considerably less potent as an attacking weapon. His technique requires his timing to be impeccable lest he shank the ball, and it is arguably too loopy and lacking in bite. Going to the Gasquet forehand can too often allow an opponent to get back into a point.
The same cannot be said of Pouille’s forehand. When the younger Frenchman gets after the ball it is a fearsome weapon and there are few that can claim to hit the ball harder. His backhand is not as powerful, although it is a dangerous weapon down the line when Pouille’s game is on song. An interesting battle will be on serve. Pouille is the better server, but neither man can afford a bad serving day or their opponent will take advantage of second serves. That is particularly true of Gasquet, for whom the second serve remains an unresolved weakness in his game.
Gasquet may have the history in Montpellier, but Pouille is the better player at this point in their careers. Though Tsonga had him on the ropes in their semifinal, that aside Pouille has impressed so far in Montpellier, and he’s hardly the first man to fall victim to that magical Tsonga mixture of feel and power. If he can exploit Gasquet’s forehand side and prevent Gasquet from deploying his backhand regularly he should come through the final in three sets to lift the title.
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