29-year-old Frenchman crashes 'top-four' party to set up semi-final against world No 1 Djokovic
Just as the top four men's seeds seemed set to contest the Wimbledon semi-finals for the first time in 20 years, dashing Frenchman Richard Gasquet fired a broadside of backhands straight through the script on Wednesday.
Defending champion Novak Djokovic, seven-times title holder Roger Federer and home hope Andy Murray all kept to their side of the bargain with straight sets wins. But Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka, the French Open champion, let the side down.
Then again, there was no shame in a 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 11-9 defeat against a daring man playing one of the matches of his life in a contest dubbed "the battle of the backhands" on Court One.
"I'm very proud. It's these moments that stay with you," Gasquet said.
"I'm here so I want to enjoy the moment."
Gasquet, whose only other Grand Slam quarter-final appearance was in 2013 at the US Open said he appreciated his achievement much more than in 2007.
"I'm older, I've a lot more experience and I know what it means," he said. "When you see the line-up of (Roger) Federer and (Novak) Djokovic and (Andy) Murray then me -- well I'm amazed."
Gasquet, a former world junior champion who has fallen short of the heights expected of him, served for the match at 5-3 in the fifth set but fourth seed Wawrinka broke back, gesturing with a finger pointed to his head that he had the mental edge.
But Gasquet, whose trademark single-hander, like Wawrinka's near identical backhand stroke, has the purists purring, showed remarkable resolve to withstand a barrage.
With Wawrinka a proven warrior and a bona fide member of the elite after winning the 2014 Australian Open and succeeding Rafael Nadal as French Open champion, you feared the worst for Gasquet.
As the backhands fizzed diagonally across the net with ever-increasing intensity the 21st seed kept his nose in front.
Five times Wawrinka held serve to stay alive.
At the sixth time of asking, however, Gasquet forged 0-40 ahead and, although two match points went begging, Wawrinka fired a backhand long to end the duel.
"It was very difficult for me to lose that serve at 5-3," Gasquet, who destroyed Andy Roddick at the same stage in 2007 only to lose to Federer in the semi-final, told reporters.
"I kept fighting. That made the difference."
While Gasquet in full flow has always been a joy to behold, his mental fortitude has been questioned.
He lost to Australian Nick Kyrgios here last year despite having nine match points and two years ago at Roland Garros he went down 8-6 in a fifth set to Wawrinka.
"It's a revenge for me a little bit," he said.
"It's great to win. After 2007, it's been a long time."
Gasquet produced some exquisite drop shots and volleys as well as whipping his trademark backhand down the lines to beat the powerful Swiss Wawrinka.
"It was emotional for me," he said.
"For a start he won in Paris and I'm French -- I know what it means in France," he said.
"And now this is the biggest tournament in the world."
Gasquet's next hurdle is top seed Djokovic, the man who crushed him in three rapid sets at Roland Garros last month.
Wawrinka, who beat the world No.1 in the Paris final, looked doubtful when asked whether Gasquet stood much chance against the defending Wimbledon champion. "Very, very tough," he said.
Gasquet would not be downhearted though.
"It's important that I play a better match than I did in Paris. I'll try to be very aggressive. On the mental side I need to believe I can win."
Gasquet will have to scale the same heights, and some, to have any hope of reaching his first grand slam showpiece at the 43rd attempt as Djokovic awaits in the semi-final.