Brilliant Gasquet cruises to win over Popryin to maintain UTS title hopes

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"The Virtuoso" Richard Gasquet continued his love affair with UTS as he cruised to a 3-1 win over Alexei Popyrin, "The Sniper", on Saturday to maintain his hopes of reaching the Final 4.

The Frenchman dazzled in the burning sun with an array of stupendous backhands, romping to his fifth victory in seven UTS matches, lifting him alongside Stefanos Tsitsipas at the top of the standings.

“It was solid tennis, I think I played better against Thiem, but I returned well and I was solid,” Gasquet said. “I didn’t make unforced errors, I think that’s why I won. I served well. The first set was pretty tight, but I managed to win it and that was important for my confidence.”

Flashes of brilliance

Popyrin, who went into the match 3-3 from his first six matches, was in touch early on but a few flashes of brilliance in each quarter from Gasquet sealed his fate and maintained the world No 7’s outstanding form in this innovative competition at the Mouratoglou Academy in the south of France.

The first quarter was close early on and Popyrin, who has the advantage of being based at the academy, matched him in the early moments. The Australian led 9-7 but Gasquet pulled level and then, thanks to a stunning backhand on the run, he took the lead himself.

Gasquet’s backhand has long been one of the best shots in men’s tennis but the flick he produced to go up 12-10 was something else, a flick of the wrist from the baseline that left Popyrin wondering what had hit him as Gasquet took the opening quarter.

“It’s a natural shot,” Gasquet said. “Some players have a good forehand; for me, the backhand is better.”

Popyrin frustrated

Gasquet hit a Rafael Nadal-like forehand as he pulled ahead 6-4 in the second quarter, rubbing salt in the wound as he aced Popyrin with an ace having used his steal serve card.

“I’m not playing my best, “Gasquet said. “But I’m winning two sets to zero, so that’s good.”

Popyrin cut a frustrated figure and The Sniper could not find his mark in the third quarter, either, thanks to the sheer brilliance of the Frenchman, who raised his game further.

Having opened up a big lead early on as Popyrin let his focus dip, Gasquet hit back to back aces with his winners x3 card and cruised through the rest of the quarter to take an unassailable 3-0 lead, one stunning backhand return the pick of the bunch.

To his credit, Popyrin kept going in the fourth quarter and he reaped the rewards for his perseverance as he took it 21-14 to pick up a consolation.

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