Days like today are what tennis fans live for. Stanislas Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet are two top 10 players who have some of the most beautiful style of play. They each have one-handed backhands, probably the best on tour. However, both of these players are known for more unfortunate reasons. After today’s epic 5 set battle, these players have shown that they are new players.
Richard Gasquet was on the cover of the French Tennis magazine when he was nine years old. He was hyped up to be the next French number one. He showed that he had the talent, but for much of his career he struggled under pressure. He folded when the spotlight was on him. His five set record is poor. He lost to Andy Murray on the same Suzanne Lenglen court after being up 2 sets to none. He had struggled with the French crowd in the past, so for his tournament he asked the organizers to not be placed on the center court.
Stan Wawrinka has had a similar career path. Coming on tour in the shadow of Roger Federer was very hard for Stan the man. He was always second fiddle when it came to Swiss tennis players.(It will always be that way) He was known for not playing well in the big matches also. People talked about his extreme talent, but popular opinion was that he couldn’t compete with the big boys.
Fast forward to January 2013. Earlier this year, Stan played one of the matches of the year against Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open, only to fall 12-10 in the fifth set. He won the respect and love of many people in that match, including myself. He showed that he had the goods to compete with the best, and he also had the heart. Some people thought he would have trouble recovering from the loss, but instead he used it as motivation. He beat Andy Murray in Monte Carlo, won the title in Portugal over David Ferrer, and got to the final of Madrid before losing to Rafael Nadal.
Now press forward to today. The first set was of incredible quality. Both players were aggressive, but Gasquet pulled through in a tiebreak 7-5. He embraced the French crowd, and they got on their feet as he pumped his fist. He broke Wawrinka to open the second set, and was up 4-0 when Stan called the trainer. He’s had a thigh/quad injury for the past couple of weeks. They was a lot of doubt whether he would play in Paris this year. After getting a massage and retape on his leg, Wawrinka came back out and looked hampered. He did break serve, but Gasquet won the set 6-4, with the French crowd once again on their feet.
Wawrinka started to move better in the third set. He held his serve easily and started making in-roads on the return. He played a fantastic return game to break, and won the set 6-4. The fourth set was perhaps the highest quality tennis I have ever seen. It seemed like every single point ended in a winner. Both players were in the zone, cranking both forehands and backhands. Here is one of the many highlights of the match:
At 5-4 and 5-5, there were about 12 straight winners between the two. Personally, I was on my feet at home in awe. Stan broke to win the set 7-5, finishing with a huge forehand down the line.
At this point Gasquet was starting to break down physically. He called the trainer out and got some treatment. This was going to show what Richard was made of. In the past he would fold, but not today. With the help of the crowd, Gasquet willed himself to hold serve. The two kept up the high quality until 5-5. Wawrinka got down 15-40 in the game, and the crowd was going nuts. Stan saved the first with a gutsy play. He came to the net and stuck a backhand volley. He saved the second with a huge serve. At 7-6, Wawrinka got himself a match point. He ended the match as it was supposed to; with a forehand winner.(The side he is known for getting tight on)
For me it was one of my all time favorite matches. The two players put everything on the line in an incredible shot making match. Wawrinka hit an astonishing 92 winners, compared to only 55 unforced errors. Gasquet had 57 winners himself. Matches like this are what make tennis awesome. Stan really is a new Man. His reward? A date with Rafa Nadal in the Quarterfinals.