Coming From Behind
The highly anticipated match between Andy Murray (#4 seed) and Frenchman Richard Gasquet -- his first appearance on Court Suzanne Lenglen since his suspension -- launched French fans' hopes skyward into the wild blue yonder. Up two sets to one, and with a break in the third set, Richard let his concentration slip, along with his footwork, and buckled losing the third to Scotsman Murray.
The wheels of fortune quickly shifted for the Frenchman and for France. The dazzling exhibition Gasquet had performed unwound; and, it was dazzling. Gasquet has a one-handed backhand that zings. As he finishes the shot, his wrist flicks just a touch as if he's signing his name.
But the confident Gasquet, who had held his own initially for the first three hours and looked to be closing in on an upset, sank. He looked despondent. He shook his head as if saying to the crowd 'I cannot go on.' Commentators acted shocked, wondering out loud what had happened. Gasquet hadn't taken a tumble. His Lacoste shirts weren't brushed with red clay. They would have seen it.
But the drama from Gasquet left fans, media, and Murray questioning the stamina of Gasquet and more importantly his heart.
The 23-year-old called for ATP trainers. They rushed to his side, their backpacks bouncing away all stuffed with medical goodies: tape, aspirin, icy sprays. One man rubbed his thighs, as Gasquet winced. Was he cramping? You could just imagine the glee in Murray's mind, if that were true. Three hours. Three sets. It's not that long of a match at the French, unless it's on the women's side.
Two years ago in the round of sixteen at Wimbledon these two faced off. Gasquet went up two sets and a break. Sound familiar? Then Murray got juiced, got his Scottish mojo moving and won the third set tiebreak. The normally restrained crowd roared for their countryman, even if he was a Scot. He used fan fuel to pump up. He got inside Gasquet's head. The crowd got inside Gasquet's head. He went down in five, as twilight blanketed the court, adding a darkened drama to the end of the day and Gasquet's run at the 2008 Wimbledon.
Today, Gasquet didn't use crowd control. He either couldn't bring himself to rev up fans, like Andy Roddick does so well with American fans, his arms waving like a symphony conductor's. Or, perhaps, Gasquet was embarrassed that he hadn't closed the match in three sets, which he could have done. French players seem to take to heart the beat of the native fan drum, and end up beating themselves, which he did.
Gasquet only had to win one set, at that point in the match. He had the lead -- on the scoreboard.
Brad Gilbert used to ask his tutees a common sense question, before they stepped on court in a Slam -- Can you win three sets today? Gasquet was almost there, but couldn't come up with the goods physically and mentally. His service percentage feel. He committed twice as many errors as winners in the fourth set. Meanwhile Murray hit seven aces, winning it to even the match in thirty-one minutes. The fifth set win for Murray was a forgone conclusion.
In defense of Gasquet, his tired and forlorn appearance and performance could have been the result of energy exerted on Saturday as he defeated Fernando Verdasco in three sets in the final of the Open De Nice Cote D'Azur. It was the first time this tournament in Nice had seen the light of day since 1995. To have been won by a Frenchman was a great honor for Gasquet and for France. Mentally drained is no way to enter The French Open.
Had Gasquet closed the match against Murray in three, he probably would have gone out in the next round. You drag that exhaustion around like a dead horse until it's beaten to death through sleep and rest. There's no time for that at a major tournament, even with one day essentially interjected in the draw for that purpose.
Murray, meanwhile, is one lucky Scot. He never would have heard the end of that almost-failure from the British press. A little conversation with a spiritual mentor would be a good idea for Murray tonight before he turns off his bedside lamp.
Around the grounds on Court 6, Kei Nishikori came from two sets down to defeat Columbia Santiago Giraldo in five sets over three-and-a-half hours. Nishikori, who lives in Bradenton and practices at the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy, had not won a match in a main draw since 2009.
On Court 5, another five-setter expanded to just less than four hours in the warm spring sun. Wildcard entrant Carsten Ball sent Peter Petzshner packing 36 67 (4) 62 75 97. Ball is listed as an Australian. However, he has lived in southern California for most of his young life. He is known for a wicked lefty serve and errant attempts to approach the net.
American Mardy Fish hung in for five sets to chalk up the win over Michael Berrer of Germany. Fish didn't come from two sets down, but did the familiar see-saw five-setter ... lose, win, lose, win, win. Add music and you could dance to that victory.
Nicolas Almagro should, one day soon, learn to close out a match before he wrings every last ounce of life from his Spanish body. He scared bookies today when he came within a hair of bowing out in his first round against Robin Haase of The Netherlands, in five sets. Almagro (seed #19) is one of the most talented Spaniards on the ATP Tour. In the Madrid semifinals, he took the first set from Rafael Nadal with ease. But Almagro didn't have the stamina and endurance to beat Rafael, which given how the first set went, he could have done.
And, finally, the epic five-set match of the day belongs to 19-year-old American and qualifier Michael Yani and Lukas Lacko of Slovakia. Both were playing their first matches ever at Roland Garros. Neither, it seems, would yield until, in the fifth set, Lacko closed the match 12-10 in five hours. The match consisted of three tiebreak sets. The fifth ran 97 minutes. The scoreline was 36 76 (5) 76 (4) 67 (5) 12/10.
Boris Becker has said that the fifth set is about heart. His words ring true. With so much emphasis on fitness, even the best tennis player must remain mentally keen until the last ball is struck. Better fitness brings with it better mental acuity. However, a part of these marvelous matches today should be left to mystery. Explanations and analysis siphon the inexplicable when it should remain an element of the day, time, place and personal efforts exerted.