Has a tennis player ever disappointed as much as Richard Gasquet has? “I’m very disappointed – Richard collapsed in his head,” Fabrice Santoro said of Gasquet, and that was one Frenchman trying to be kind to another.
When Rafael Nadal and Gasquet played in the third round of the 2005 French Open, it was talked up around Paris as ‘The Clash of the Prodigies’, as if the two of them deserved something approaching equal billing. Maybe that was just the jingoism and the vin rouge talking. Anyway, just look at what the two of them have achieved since. You could say that Gasquet’s three grand slam matches against Andy Murray have summed up his career: early promise, creeping doubts and insecurities, a lack of fight, and the long, inevitable fade to defeat. Play some pretty shots, flash a little backhand, then quietly slip away. Perhaps the crowd should learn not to invest in Gasquet’s tennis, but when you watch him playing freely, and building a lead against one of the top seeds, you forget about all the past frustrations. Then, you inevitably discover that the latest disappintment is always the greatest. You will have to go a long way to find a player who teases a crowd more than Gasquet.
The first couple of occasions that they met at the slams, Murray came from two sets down to win. In Monday’s match in Paris, Murray turned around a one-set deficit against Gasquet, helped by the Frenchman’s mental slide. While Gasquet didn’t seem happy with Murray holding his back between points – he could hardly have missed that as they kept on showing it on the video screens – he didn’t exactly channel that anger into his tennis. Gasquet is not one of those people who can play angry tennis. The worst thing that ever happened to Gasquet? When, at the age of nine, he was introduced on the cover of a French tennis magazine as the future of French Tennis.
Here’s an interesting idea, suggested by Jim Courier: “Could the crowd at the All England Club boo Murray? That could inspire him.” The booing started early – as Murray walked on court. That was never going to intimidate him.
Murray now finds himself in the worst spot on the draw-sheet – surrounded by Spaniards, with Ferrer, Nadal and Nicolas Almagro in his half. Murray next plays Ferrer, an opponent with half Gasquet’s natural flair, and four times his mental strength.
Across the grounds, so many of the leading players (and spectators) played exactly to type. We had Nadal annihilating a respectable opponent on clay – the Majorcan won the last 17 games against Argentina’s Juan Monaco for a 6-2, 6-0, 6-0 victory (this is what he does to his friends). We had Maria Sharapova showing that she knows as much as Brad Gilbert does about winning ugly, with her fourth-round match against Klara Zakopalova filled with service breaks, C’mons and mental fortitude. David Ferrer, the human Pong, was showing how consistency can be a weapon in beating Spain’s Marcel Granollers. Gasquet could not compete mentally. Murray, after some early dramas against Gasquet, was playing some clever tennis and some ballsy tennis. And the crowds at Roland Garros were booing.
The only player who wasn’t doing what was expected of him or her? That was Li Na. Defending champions aren’t supposed to lose a third set 6-0 to an opponent ranked outside the top 100, Kazak Yaroslava Shvedova.