Top seed Richard Gasquet will kick off his 2016 season at the Open Sud de France, after injury sidelined him from the Australian Open. He faces former world no. 10 Ernests Gulbis in the Montpellier second round at 7pm local time (6pm BST.)
The defending champion this week, Gasquet must get down to business from the first serve on the hard-courts of Montpellier.
After a consistent 2015 season that saw him reach the heights of the Wimbledon semifinals, Gasquet's new year began with a blow. Back injury forced him out of the first major of the year – and prevented him from defending the third round ranking points he gained there last season. Now hanging onto the edge of the ATP's top 10, the 29-year-old cannot afford to lose in the second round here - which would see Milos Raonic, barely more than 100 ranking points behind, leapfrog him to enter the game's elite.
Gasquet can be confident that the home crowds will be cheering him in force when he kicks off his Open Sud de France title defence, but he could have been given an easier opener. Ernests Gulbis, with a 6-3 6-4 win over qualifier Quentin Halys in round one, will be warmed up for the battle with a man whom he has beaten before.
Having been as high as the world's top ten, Gulbis endured a horrendous season in 2016. Starting out as the world no. 13, he lost the first five matches he played that year, before compiling a 1-11 win/loss record by mid-May. He finished the season with just 11 wins to a whopping 24 losses, and now languishes at a dismal world no. 82 ranking. But coming off his first main-draw victory of the season – having lost twice in qualifying, and 11-13 in the fifth to Jeremy Chardy in Melbourne – he will be prepared to face a probably rusty Richard Gasquet.
The two have faced off three times in their careers, with Gasquet leading 2-1. The Frenchman triumphed in both their clashes at Masters 100 events: 6-2 1-6 6-4 in Rome 2009, and 6-1 6-4 in Shanghai 2010. Nevertheless, it was Ernests Gulbis who won their most recent clash, and also their only one in France. The non-seeder – who possesses six ATP titles to Gasquet's 12 – was victorious 6-3 6-2 in the 2014 Marseille semifinal, and went on to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to claim the title.
Can Richard Gasquet make a triumphant return to tour? He will attempt to do so when he faces Ernests Gulbis in Montpellier, live at 7pm local time (6pm BST.)