Gasquet defeats Verdasco to win Nice Open

PARIS (Reuters) - Richard Gasquet sent Andy Murray a stern warning before their French Open first-round clash by taming Spaniard Fernando Verdasco 6-3 5-7 7-6 in the final of the Nice Open on Saturday.

The Frenchman, who was briefly suspended last year after testing positive for cocaine, has struggled to regain his form since returning to the tour last August and his confidence hit rock bottom when he was thrashed by Czech Tomas Berdych in the Monte Carlo Masters last month.

In a bid to boost his morale before the French Open, which begins on Sunday and where he will face British world number four Murray in his opening match, the 23-year-old opted to try his luck on the lower tier of the ITF circuit.

"I am very happy with what I have achieved here," Gasquet, who called on the trainer twice in the third set to get treatment on his left knee and thigh, told French TV channel Sport+.

"I am exhausted but it was worth it. I had to go all the way. I was close to losing this match. It is destiny. I was meant to win this final."

Gasquet was suspended last May at the Sony Ericsson Open in Florida after testing positive for cocaine but was later cleared of any wrongdoing after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that he had been inadvertently contaminated by kissing a woman in a night club.

The left-handed Verdasco, his left elbow strapped, tried to counter Gasquet's trademark crosscourt backhand with his powerful forehand.

Gasquet broke for 4-2 when the Spaniard fired a forehand wide.

Verdasco, seeded second, saved four break points on his serve but conceded the opening set in the ninth game when Gasquet unleashed a perfect forehand winner.

Verdasco retaliated in the second set, converting his first break chance with a fine forehand down the line to move 3-1 up.

But Gasquet broke straight back and claimed the Spaniard's serve in the ninth game when Verdasco netted a routine forehand.

The Frenchman subsequently cracked under pressure as he served for the match and lost six games in a row to find himself trailing 3-0 in the decider.

After wasting three break points in the sixth game, Verdasco tried to whip up the loud partisan crowd which prompted his father to try and calm him down.

Gasquet repeatedly complained to the umpire Carlos Bernardes as Verdasco kept shouting between the points.

The Frenchman broke back, dropped serve and broke back again to force a tiebreak.

After finally bagging it 7-5 thanks to a Verdasco forehand sailing wide, the Frenchman collapsed on to his back in celebration.

(Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)