Gasquet eases into grass season after return from ban

London: Richard Gasquet relaxed into his first grasscourt match for two years with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Japan`s Kei Nishikori at the Queen`s Club on Monday.

Less than 24 hours after Rafael Nadal lifted the French Open title on Paris clay, the short grass season kicked off and Frenchman Gasquet and two compatriots made light work of reaching the second round.

Under overcast London skies, ninth seed Julien Benneteau beat old campaigner and compatriot Arnaud Clement 6-2 6-4 and 12th-seeded Michael Llodra defeated Kazakhstan`s Andrey Golubev 6-3, 6-2.

Gasquet has slumped from seventh in the rankings after missing several months last year because of a drugs case.

The Frenchman was suspended after testing positive for traces of cocaine but had his two-year ban lifted after two-and-a-half months when a tribunal accepted he had ingested the drug through kissing a woman in a Florida nightclub in 2009.

The suspension and the battle to clear his name wrecked his game and his confidence failed. Tournament victories in Bordeaux and Nice have helped to restore his self-belief and his ranking has risen from 72 to 45 this year.

"It was very difficult. I stopped (for) a lot of months. When I came back to the tour I played very bad," he said.

"It`s hard to come back to seven but I will try to get to the 20s and after (that) everything is possible."

"But I`m enjoying the time on the tour. I`m playing well and I have not so much pressure. You have a tough time, the pressure is less."

Gasquet, twice a quarter-finalist at Queen`s, twice a winner on grass at Nottingham and a semi-finalist at Wimbledon in 2007, put the French feel for grasscourt tennis down to good early training for an all-round game.

"A lot of French players are playing good because we have a good technique, good serves. It`s a talented game on grass, more than on clay," the 23-year-old said.

Against 20-year-old Nishikori, Gasquet served, volleyed, slid and occasionally dived to victory, using his whipped backhand to great effect.

Top seed Nadal, defending champion Andy Murray, four-times champion Andy Roddick and second seed Novak Djokovic were among eight players with byes to the second round.

Nadal, newly installed in the number one spot after his victory over Robin Soderling in Paris, arrived in London by train to have an early evening practice session.

Murray, who beat Gasquet in a five-set thriller in Paris, and his brother Jamie were due to play doubles later on Monday but rain looked likely to disrupt play.

Bureau Report

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