Gasquet gets win over Wawrinka in five-set battle of the backhands
LONDON – The email went around yesterday and—like the subject himself—it was forceful and terse. “At the request of Stan WAWRINKA, amend pronunciation to: WaW-RINK-A.” And you’ll note the first name. Last year, a similar email was circulated, noting that “Stanislas” Wawrinka would now be known only as “Stan.”
It was all very metaphorical. Stan Wawrinka, 30, may have won the previous major, the 2015 French Open. He may have claimed as many Slams over the last 18 months as Novak Djokovic, the No.1 player in the world. He may have won scads of other titles over the last decade and done a significant stint in the top ten. Yet, we are at the phase when we’re still learning to pronounce the guy’s name. Such is the entrenchment of the Big Four. Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal—the first three of whom won today at Wimbledon—have dominated the cast of the tennis reality show.
Imagine what this means for Richard Gasquet (gas-KAY), the 29-year-old French veteran is into just his third Slam semifinal and first at Wimbledon since 2007. This isn’t fifth Beatle territory; it's sixth Beatle territory. He may have won titles and more than $10 million in prize money. But he’s a perennial dark horse.
In fairness, Gasquet hasn’t always helped his cause. His strokes are as stylish as they come, particularly his one-handed backhand, a melding of grace and fury. But he’s had a hit-or-miss relations his with self-belief. There was a spell when he reached the Round of 16 in six straight majors, testament to his skills. Then—testament to something else—he lost in each one. Last year at Wimbledon? He had nine match points against Nick Kyrgios and lost the match.
Which is why today was so special. The best match of the tournament doubles as the best win of Gasquet’s career. After the Big Names have won in straight sets, Gasquet did battle against Wawrinka in a clash of backhands, a backhandalia if you will. (And I hope you will.)
Gasquet won the first set. He then dropped the next two in what looked to be another typical Gasquet attack-and-then-retreat play. He stood tall, though, and won the fourth, pounding his heart, almost as if to convince himself.
The fifth was a 20-game, 83-minute passion play. Sways of momentum. Some staggering shotmaking. Some inexplicable misses. Soaring action. A plot point came when Gasquet broke Wawrinka, to serve for the semifinals at 5-3. Another plot point came moments later when Gasquet couldn’t close. Again, it looked like another meltdown.
Gasquet, though, wouldn’t relent. Not after that brutal drop of serve. Not when Wawrinka drilled a ball at Gasquet. Not when Gasquet held match point, hit a ball that clipped the tape and then—as if changing its mind—landed on Gasquet’s side. On the third match point, Gasquet hit a gem of a return. Wawrinka drove a backhand long. And the Frenchman had—finally—done it.
In Friday’s men’s semifinals, Federer will play Murray in the most anticipated match of the tournament. Gasquet gets a date with Djokovic. We’ll see if he can achieve still MaW.
So, if Serena wins her 21st major at Wimbledon, she should get thorough Kudos of having survived murderer's row. She drew Venus in the fourth round, Azarenka in the quarters and Sharapova in the semis. If Kvitova had survived, Serena would have faced her in the finals. That has to be one of the worst draws possible with the players in the game today. I believe that includes ALL of the players who have more than one Grand Slam that are currently active.
—Ted Ying, Laurel, Maryland
• Totally agree. The good news: you beat Heather Watson! The bad news: you get Venus. The good news: you beat Venus! The bad news: you get Azarenka, a former No. 1, next. The good news: you beat Azarenka! The bad news: you get Sharapova next. The good news (hypothetically): you beat Sharapova! The bad news: you’re going to third straight Slam against a nothing-to-lose opponent.
I watched the best women’s match of the tournament between Serena and Vika yesterday. What impressed me more than the tennis was their obvious display of affection towards each other. It is very refreshing, especially when the stakes are so high. It speaks volumes. What doesn’t impress me is when a sports writer (who will remain unmentioned) says that Serena was mocking Vika by grunting like her and that the two don’t like each other. I am sure Serena is good at multi-tasking, but I don’t think, in the heat of battle, she decides to focus on mocking Vika’s “battle cry.” This was an attempt to create discourse and cause animosity between the players, thus giving the press yet another headline. Kudos to Serena and Vika for being professional on the court and leaving the “fight” there. Great champions and gracious ladies, the both of them.
—Dayo H. Cordova, Tenn.
Yesterday you touched on the greatest female player never to win a Slam (you said Dementieva). That answer left me thinking about the Hall of Fame. You've always said the criteria for the Hall is one Slam victory and a nice long career. But given that Serena has been gobbling up the Slam titles with regularity, there aren't even many one-Slammers to consider. Assuming all their careers ended today, would Wozniacki (former No. 1, two-time Slam finalist) or Jankovic (former No. 1, U.S. Open finalist) make the cut? What about Stosur (U.S. Open winner, French finalist, but a somewhat spotted singles career) or Schiavone (French winner, French finalist, but a fairly short time as a top player) or Ivanovic (former No. 1, French champ, but a quick slide after)? I would argue that Elena Dementieva (Olympic gold, two-time Slam finalist, long career in the Top 10) would be the most worthy of any in the group that I've mentioned. How does Olympic gold compare to a single Slam? Thoughts?
—Cody, The Hague, Netherlands
• First, the standards need to get harder, not easier. In no universe does zero Slams and Olympic gold get you in. Me? I don’t vote for any of the above names yet. As for the Olympics, I’m interested to see what happens in Rio. In London, all the top players not only competed, but also treated the Games as a fifth major. But I wonder if the venue—the All England Club—played a big role in that. Right now, I’d say players would rather win a major than Olympic gold. They would rather win Olympic gold than a Masters Series title.
Black-face—even when there is no intention of malice and even as a manifestation of support—is simply grating, We don’t want to restrain fans from expressing their support for players and country, but surely, there are better ways of expressing those sentiments. We don’t even give it a pass on Halloween for it no more. The authorities should definitely nip this in the bud, no?
• Deepak is referring to this, still another Kyrgios controversy.
• From a reader, Charith: Something funny happened while watching Serena play Vika today: I cried. And that has never happened before. Yes, I did cry along with Agassi when he lost his final match on Arthur Ashe. I cried along with Federer when he broke down at the Australian. I almost cried three weeks ago watching Djokovic at the French. But today was different. Williams hit THAT brilliant second serve to save THAT crucial breakpoint in the second set—and that was it—I couldn't take it no more. After all these years, and all those matches, Williams can still dazzle with expected ease and her divine play, while mere mortals can only imagine the things that go on in her other-worldly mind.
• Ivan H. has LLS: Gilles Simon and action Emile Hirsch.
SNAPSHOTS FROM THE MEN'S QUARTERFINALS