Frenchman Richard Gasquet has long been a player talented enough to break through at a Grand Slam tennis event.
With his explosive one-handed backhand and versatile baseline game, he has lurked just below the top echelon occupied by Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Roger Federer.
But in the 17 times Gasquet has reached the fourth round at a major, he has only won two matches.
Now, after gutting out an epic 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3 victory over No. 4 David Ferrer in the quarterfinals Wednesday in Arthur Ashe Stadium, No. 8 Gasquet is through to the U.S. Open semifinals.
It marks his first major semifinal since Wimbledon in 2007, when he beat Andy Roddick in the quarters before losing to Federer in the semifinals. It’s also the first time a Frenchman has reached the Open semifinals since Cedric Pioline in 1999.
“It’s a big match for me, a big victory for me,” Gasquet, who had lost eight of nine previous encounters against Ferrer, said in his on-court interview.
The Frenchman will now have almost 72 hours to rest before Saturday’s semifinals. He will face the winner of Wednesday’s night match between No. 2 Rafael Nadal and No. 19 Tommy Robredo.
Nadal owns a 10-0 record against Gasquet, while Robredo and Gasquet are 2-2 all-time.
Asked about the possibility of playing Nadal — nearly everyone’s favorite to win the tournament — Gasquet said, “Last time I won [against] him I was 13 years old. I beat him one time in my life. Now I would say he’s a good friend of mine so if I have to play against him I have nothing to lose. I will try to play a good match.”
Gasquet can use the rest before the semifinals. He has now gone the distance in back-to-back wins over Ferrer and No. 10 Milos Raonic of Canada.
After Ferrer came back from two sets down to force a fifth set, it appeared he would come all the way to meet a fellow Spaniard in the semifinals.
Ferrer is having one of the best years of his career, having reached his first major final at the French Open as well as the semifinals at the Australian Open and the quarters at Wimbledon.
But in the sixth game of the fifth set, Ferrer double-faulted on break point, giving Gasquet a 4-2 advantage.
Serving at 5-3 for the match, Gasquet closed it out with a forehand crosscourt winner that even Ferrer, one of the most athletic and toughest guys on tour, could not return.
While Gasquet’s forehand ultimately won him the match, it was his beautiful one-handed backhand that dominated much of the match. He hit 21 backhand winners in the match, compared to 14 from the forehand wing.
In dominating the first two sets, Gasquet would often his the backhand to Ferrer’s two-handed backhand, where the ball would kick up high, making it difficult to return. Gasquet finished off the first set with a gorgeous backhand winner up the line.
He will need to keep up that level of play, especially if he faces Nadal on Saturday.
“I have a big match in semis … so it’s wonderful for me,” Gasquet said.
Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter @AdamZagoria for updates throughout the U.S. Open.