The Toes Have It
January 24, 2009 -- ESPN commentator Mary Jo Fernandez put it well: "We're used to drama in the women's game, but this one has just as much." She referred to the five-set clash between Fernando Gonzalez (#13 seed) and Richard Gasquet (#24) this evening on the rowdy Margaret Court Arena. But the match ended almost two hours later in the fifth, with Gonzalez moving on to the round of sixteen: 36 36 76(10) 62 1210.
Many have questioned Richard Gasquet's heart -- his ability to dig deep in a long match, pulling out all the guts necessary to persevere. But not after this match. He played almost flawless tennis in the first and second sets. In the third, Gonzalez fought back. He won a long tiebreak at 12-10 in the third and never looked back, but neither did his French opponent.
Overall both men tallied excellent match differentials: Gasquet 58 unforced errors to 80 winners, and Gonzalez 51 to 85 (includes service winners). However, in the first and last sets Gasquet had twice as many winners as unforced errors. Keep in mind he lost, too.
Chilean fans were more vocal than the French fans; however, the South Americans out-numbered the Europeans about one hundred to one. The atmosphere at times seemed like a Davis Cup tie. But Gasquet did show signs of crowd contempt in the third-set tiebreak. He wanted the match over, that was apparent. But Gonzalez kept pressing. At six-points all, Gasquet proved once again what a great shot maker he is. He served and volleyed his second serve and got the point. But Gonzalez isn't called Gonzo for nothing. He wasn't about to go home. He picked up the pace of his serve. He improved the percentage of points won on second serves, and he clinched the tiebreak 12/10.
Maladies mounted for Gasquet in the fourth set. "[There's] always something with Richard Gasquet," Patrick McEnroe mentioned at the opportune time. The trainer was called. Gasquet's toe was bloodied, he grimaced, then scuttled through a couple more games when the trainer was called back a second time. Gasquet's shoulder needed attention.
Not to be out done, Gonzalez also called the trainer in the fourth set for a toe problem, too. However, thirty-two minutes later he had won the set. They were on to the fifth.
Gasquet went first, meaning he had to play from behind on each service game. With precise placement of serves and crackling down-the-line backhand winners, the Frenchman kept pace. Gonzalez might have served his fastest in the fifth, but Richard's shot selection and court sense kept the match competitive.
They don't call him "Gonzo" Gonzalez for nothing, either. At 10-games all, on a second serve at ad-out, Gonzo served a perfect American twist serve -- the kicker, as it's called nowadays. Gasquet sent a short reply and Gonzo ran around it letting loose on an inside-out forehand winner. The crowd went crazy. He'd won the game, giving him an 11/10 lead. Gonzo closed the match at 12/10. However, both men won the exact same number of points for the entire match -- 191.
The match stretched four hours and nine minutes. Both men limped off the court, eagerly anticipating their rubdowns, food and sleep, as Chilean fans lit flares, filling Margaret Court Arena with a dense smoke.
In his press conference, Fernando Gonzalez said he felt like the front-runner as the fifth set got underway. He knew Gasquet was trying to save energy, but when Gonzalez failed to close the match around the fourth game and couldn't break Gasquet, things changed.
"After that," Fernando said, "I mean, you know, 6-all, 8-all, 9-all, 10-all, anything can happen. You have to keep fighting and wait for your chances."
Gasquet had only lost one other five-set match, after having been up two sets. That was last year at Wimbledon where he confronted Andy Murray and a very pro Great Britain crowd. Murray's win was the fuel that ignited his rise in the rankings, too.
Darren Cahill characterized Andy Murray's play today as "sublime." The Scot defeated Jurgen Melzer in straight sets 75 60 63. Andy had three times the number of winners as unforced errors, an unprecedented ratio. At the US Open last year, the lefty Melzer caused many more problems for Murray when their match went five difficult sets.
"I definitely served better here," Murray said in his press conference. "The conditions are slower and I didn't feel as pushed. I've had a better start here, too, which made it easier against him."
Murray's next opponent is Fernando Verdasco, another lefty. Verdasco has upped his caliber of tennis and fitness since he and his teammates won the Davis Cup last year in Argentina. If Andy can beat him, he'll be through to the semifinals.
Speculation abounds about "the four" -- Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, and Murray -- advancing to the semifinals. So far they are all on track, with only Novak Djokovic dropping a set. His next opponent is Marcos Baghdatis, the finalist in 2006. Baghadatis has a strong contingency of Greek Cypriot fans in Australia, which houses the biggest population of Greeks outside of the country itself. He presents a danger to Djokovic not only from a tennis talent perspective, but also from a fan-based perspective.
Earlier this week after Djokovic defeated the Bosnian-born American Amer Delic, a group of Serbians fans hosted a chair-tossing contest with Bosnians outside Margaret Court Arena. Security ousted the culprits and issued statements of "no tolerance" to the press. However, Djokovic did nothing to dissuade his Serbian fans. In his press conference when asked about the scuffle, he intimated that they (the Serbian fans) should be left alone to do what they have to do.
Tennis fans can catch this match on ESPN2 around 5 AM EST Sunday morning. Roger Federer plays Tomas Berdych during the day session Sunday. That match will probably air around midnight EST, the same time Andy Roddick will take to the court against Tommy Robredo. Check your local listings for exact broadcast times.