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Bercy: Cheerfully Brutal 11/09/2010 - 11:22 AM

Gasquet [I'm happy to introduce an exciting new voice at TW, that of the comment poster many of you know as Gauloises. This is a wonderful piece of writing, and I'm hoping to get more of the same as as the week goes on -- Pete]

by Gauloises, Contributing Writer

It’s Monday at the BNP Paribas Masters, and I have just been gloomily informed by a journalist that nothing is really happening today. He has a point; the dominant storyline here is the final three players sealing their qualification for the World Tour Finals, with a sideline in what kind of shape the elite eight will be in when their time comes to cross the Channel.

Whatever the ultimate narrative, none of the players playing singles today are expected to be involved in its denouement. Still, they’re here, and not just to make up the numbers. The question is, who’s had enough of the 2010 season, and who wants more out of it?

I arrive to see Jarkko Nieminen break for the first set against Xavier Malisse. Nieminen, the wiriest human being I’ve ever seen, has been working his way back from injury and qualified into the draw despite a strong run of form in recent weeks. He looks lean and hungry, showing his teeth in a grimace of frustration when he misses.

Malisse, on the other hand, seems more than ready for 2010 to be over. Even when he squanders opportunities, he can’t muster much emotion. When Nieminen fends off a strong challenge and holds to go up 4-2, Malisse bends his racquet into a sort of Mobius strip and sits blankly contemplating it, like a piece of modern art.

It’s over pretty quickly, and the Finn advances to face Andy Roddick in the second round.

Nieminen’s will to win is about the only intense thing in evidence at the Palais Omnisports. The corporate seats are empty—but then so are most of the others. Without the softening of spectators in the seats, the overwhelming impression is of shiny plastic, burningly bright lights, and tessellated girders; it’s a Lego building, an impression not alleviated by the red and white geraniums that line the court, too bright to be real.

The sparse crowd is overwhelmed by the space and the hum of the air-conditioning, louder than any sound the players might make, and the dramatic laser show that opens the next match is incongruous against the general early-afternoon sleepiness of the atmosphere. In fact, when Lopez and Clement stand at the net in separate spotlights, stretching rhythmically, it’s hard to tell whether they’re limbering up for a tennis match or a dance-off in the increasingly freezing air.

My friend chooses this moment to tell me that the Palais Omnisport is usually used for ice-hockey, and although Clement’s sharply-delivered volleys are drawing the first real spontaneous outbreaks of applause from the crowd, I decide to jump ship. There’s only so many times you can watch a stewardess in a faux-60s outfit pick a tennis ball out of the topiary with manicured fingernails, and if I’m going to have a cold and miserable experience, I at least want it to be a connoisseur’s cold and miserable experience.

Which is how I find myself one of maybe twenty people watching Stakhovsky and Youzhny against Aspelin and Hanley on the miniature court two. It couldn’t be a greater contrast to the main stadium; down a precipitous flight of stairs to narrow corridors of brushed concrete, no event signage, and when we walk in to take seats during a changeover, all four of the players glare at us suspiciously, as if wondering what we’re doing there.

It’s a good question.

I thought I was on the lookout for potential storylines, and here I am on the littoral of the doubles draw. But it’s fun, at least on one side of the net; Stakhovsky and Youzhny take the first set 6-3, attacking the net with gusto, chattering away cheerfully between points. Aspelin and Hanley seem a bit more somber; this is how their season will end, on a tiny court in front of a tiny audience, losing at their specialist discipline to a pair of dilettantes, barely a footnote to the tournament.

I’m wondering how they feel about being so marginalized, but with the exception of one racquet tossed so gently that one suspects Aspelin is afraid to break it, all I see is weary professionalism; it’s not glamorous, their faces imply, but someone’s got to do it. This isn’t show business; it’s just work. It’s hard to imagine Isner and Querrey being relegated to an outside court during an American Masters, but that’s where they’re scheduled against Brazilians Thomaz Bellucci and Marcelo Melo.

Indeed, the elderly French gentleman next to me leans over to ask what nationality they are, and upon hearing ’American’, promptly exits at the next changeover. It doesn’t bother Isner and Querrey; if it’s possible for a tennis match to be cheerfully brutal, this one is. Early in the first set, Melo takes a dramatic tumble across the barrier and on to the feet of the spectators, coming up grinning and joking with the umpire; later, a Querrey serve deflects off Bellucci’s racquet and strikes him in the mouth. By the time the third framed return off Isner’s serve shoots past my nose, there isn’t a spectator on court 2 who isn’t fearing for their lives; the tiny space seems too small to contain the big players and bigger shots, the explosive sound of racquet striking ball and the squealing of tennis shoes on the court.

It’s wonderfully claustrophic; every iota of the competitive intensity of the match is transmitted directly to the growing crowd. How can a doubles match in which three of the players are singles specialists be so thrilling when, come the weekend, no-one will even remember it happened? It’s competition; it’s why the game is played. It’s the best match I see all day.

The inconveniences of the venue begin to tell; in order to get a coffee, smoke or reach the press area, we have to leave by the main entrance and walk around the outside of the building. “For you, no problem!” the security guard tells us each time, his cheerfulness undiminished by repetition, even when we wander across the road for pizza and back before Nicolas Mahut and Richard Gasquet are introduced with a funked-up and spectacularly inappropriate version of the James Bond theme.

Mahut and Gasquet share more than a common nationality and one-handed backhands; if you were telling the story of either, it’s a fair bet you would begin with ‘do you remember…?’. Mahut will forever be branded with that magical 70-68, which earns him a huge round of applause on his entrance and (on my part at least) a vestigial desire to get him a comfy chair, a cold towel, and possibly a hug.

As for Gasquet, it’s looking increasingly unlikely that he’ll ever establish himself as anything other than a future for French tennis that never came to pass. Whether it’s the weight of the past or the pressure of playing at home, most of the first set is a mess of unreturned serves and unforced errors, leaving the crowd nothing to get their teeth into. I’m giving up hope in the magic powers of the night session when the match suddenly catches fire on Mahut’s serve at 4-5 and the air is filled with competing shouts of “Allez!”.

The place might be more than half empty, but those spectators who have come have come to be entertained; they want to be shown something, and they’re willing to make noise enough for three times their number. They in turn fire up the players, eliciting sensational passing shots, audacious volleys, demanding and getting a third set. Mahut scrubs his hand through his spiky hair hard enough to hurt, reddens, grimaces; Gasquet’s reactions are almost pantomime-worthy as he smacks his palm into his face.

The set wears on, with neither player able to break serve. The tiebreak looms. My friend is a Gasquet fan, and she sees a familiar narrative unfolding inexorably; the high-quality match in which he comes so close, only to falter when courage is most required. I, on the other hand, don’t think I can bear to see Mahut falter at the final hurdle again, a resonance that only becomes clearer when Mahut slips and falls to go 0-2 down in the tiebreak.

The subsequent match point is squandered on an unforced error; another is saved by a Mahut ace, and it looks as if we’ll once again be talking about Gasquet’s lack of killer instinct—until a Mahut volley flies wide, and some fantastic, frantic defense by Gasquet draws another volley error. He’s won, and he looks like he can’t believe it.

Mahut is on his knees before getting up to accept a narrow defeat graciously—again. The same old story for one; a twist in the tale for the other—who is now required to defy a far bigger narrative imperative, that of his record against Roger Federer, who waits in the second round.

By the time we exit into the freezing November night, it’s been twelve solid hours of tennis. Nine singles players and four doubles teams have put their 2010 beyond redemption; their opponents have stayed alive, kept open the possibility of one more big win. I’d be the first to admit that I prize drama over aesthetics, a good story over technically flawless tennis; but if this was a day where nothing happened, I don’t know how I’ll survive tomorrow.


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Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 03:33 PM

Okay I am going insane Gael is down love 30 on serve

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 03:34 PM

Okay make that love 40 on serve

Again Gael going for high percentage shots when there is no need to??

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 03:36 PM

Gael with 2 good 1st serves gets it back to 30-40

Hell another one

deuce

ad to Monfils with another good serve

I need help mentally after this match

Posted by sf 11/09/2010 at 03:36 PM

oh boy, drama monfils is baaccckkk!!!

am, i think le monf wants more match play so he can show us some acrobatics, what do you think?

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 03:36 PM

Allez I say to myself this match is over

Monfils d Becker 76 (7-4) 64

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/09/2010 at 03:36 PM

hello folks
nice win by Monfils.....not too long ago he was down and out

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 03:37 PM

Fuzzy HI

Why does he make it soo hard on himself then?

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/09/2010 at 03:40 PM

Hello Margie
go easy on the frenchman, he's trying to contain his game and playing well while moderating his acrobatics

Posted by sf 11/09/2010 at 03:40 PM

thanks again, am, for the match calls - very entertaining, indeed.

now, should i start frazzling about tomorrow's le sod vs an increasingly lethal gilles simon, yet?

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 03:41 PM

Fuzzy

Pass me a stiff drink pls I just did a match call ok lol!

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/09/2010 at 03:44 PM

by the end of a La Monf match you should be 'in' the bottle already

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/09/2010 at 03:44 PM

my last comment was for AM

Posted by Holds 2 Love 11/09/2010 at 03:45 PM

pouring stiff drinks...

one for Aussiemarg, for her inimitable match call... one for Roger Rasheed, for... isn't it obvious?

Posted by @work 11/09/2010 at 03:46 PM

Now I hope Berdych wins his match against a Serra.
His fellow slumper, Verdasco, managed to win his facing another Frenchie.


Posted by @work 11/09/2010 at 03:47 PM

err.. that should be against Serra not 'a'

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 03:47 PM

Fuzzy

I made myself a promise I would not drink in tournaments

Like pass me another bottle

Holds to Love

Raises Glass to you thanks lol!

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 03:48 PM

Why do they play insane James Bond musci here when the players come on court?

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 03:49 PM

Okay Birdman is on court

I am done with match calls thank you very much

I need to get my head back on

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 03:56 PM

Arun If you are still around the Champions tour starts tomorrow in Sydney and Fox sports here will telecast this tournament

Good for me cause I cant go to the opening day which is Thurday here and to think I get free tickets to this tournament too

Boo! I would love to see live Goran v Rafter they havent played since Wimby 2001.

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/09/2010 at 03:57 PM

loves me some Rafter

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 04:02 PM

Fuzzy

Weeps every time I think of that Wimby final.Pat is our new DC captain and Tony Roche is also helping him.

Posted by sf 11/09/2010 at 04:02 PM

ok, back to work, back to reality. later, all. thanks again, aussiemarge.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 04:05 PM

SF Bye for now

Posted by Master Ace 11/09/2010 at 04:06 PM

Wednesday Bercy Order of Play:

4:30 AM - Roddick, Cilic, Monaco vs Djokovic, Ljubicic vs Wawrinka, Murray vs Nalbandian, Melzer, Isner vs Llodra, Davydenko and Ferrer scheduled
1:30 PM - Federer vs Gasquet
2:30 PM - Simon vs Soderling

Posted by yello fuzzy 11/09/2010 at 04:10 PM

Pats one of the all time great guys in my book

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 04:12 PM

Fuzzy I agree there.Pat is one great guy

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 04:13 PM

Master Ace Thanks for the match schedule for Bercy tommorrow good match ups there.The race is still on for the remaining places in London

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 04:16 PM

JK Good to see you are safe and sound.

Posted by Arun 11/09/2010 at 04:25 PM

AM: Glad you can watch the Champions Tour on TV at least.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 04:43 PM

Arun Yes though I would love to be there live.Hubby of course says he would love to go.Hmm free tickets? Once a Scot always a Scot

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 04:48 PM

Good play by Tomas and he needed it

Berdych d Serra 63 61

Tomas just lost one point on serve too

Fautless performance Tomas good to see.

Posted by beth 11/09/2010 at 04:52 PM

what a wonderfully written article, Gauloises !
really enjoyed it
and looking forward to hearing more from you this week !

Posted by Bismarck 11/09/2010 at 04:57 PM

not bad by berd, but serra wasn´t good in the first set and dropped to almost-tank woeful in the 2nd.
berd said in his on-court interview that he likes this year´s surface better than the last few years´, apparently a bit speedier this year.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 05:00 PM

Bissy Well Arun and I must need our eyes checked I think its slow LOL!

Tomas needed that he has gone walk about a bit and he has always been a fav player of mine.Got to talk to him at Medibank this year he is a great guy and tall too lol!

Posted by Arun 11/09/2010 at 05:09 PM

hi there, Bis. Thanks. That's what (just about) every player seems to think.
Anyway.. Faster the better.

Posted by Roddick fan from Virginia 11/09/2010 at 05:11 PM

Greatly enjoyed the article, looking forward to more. Felt I was seeing what you were writing.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 05:11 PM

Bissy If you are still around Lleytsie I think has another 6 months on his contract in Melbourne and was saying to me he will make his mind up soon whether to extend it or move on.He likes Melbourne though and knows good bars lol!

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 05:13 PM

Arun You and me and the commies need a "eye check" mehinks lol!

By the way did you get my message about Mr Cellphones new variety show

"Warne's World"

Gulp!

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 11/09/2010 at 05:50 PM

Gauloises: Your article was simply marvelous. Splendiforous. So glad you're going to be contributing to TW. Your description of the Omnisports arena was so good I feel like I've been there. And I always wondered about that strange side court. Hope this means maybe you'll be in London all week long. :)

Posted by crazyone 11/09/2010 at 05:51 PM

I haven't been around much, but I just had to drop by and post my delight that Gauloises is writing for TW! Great article, I can't wait to read more. So jealous that you're at Paris Bercy.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 11/09/2010 at 06:08 PM

"I’d be the first to admit that I prize drama over aesthetics, a good story over technically flawless tennis; but if this was a day where nothing happened, I don’t know how I’ll survive tomorrow."

A brilliant ending to a brilliant piece, Gauloises. Encore, encore!

Posted by arbiter 11/09/2010 at 06:22 PM

One more bad, bad intention of this site: Ugly picture of Novak (among of thousands of other ugly pictures of him here), above the survey about "best strokes".
Here is what is wrong with the survey
1.The best stroke in the world is Nadal's forehand, ask any little kid or any tennis pro. Nadal still struggles with his backhand, even though he improved it this year, but not as much as he improved his serve.

2 Who cares about Federer's slice? There are at least ten players who do it better than him.

3. Novak's best shot is NOT forehand, it is his backhand, which is at the moment the best backhand in the world.

So, ugly picture and totally upside-down list? Reasons? It is not politically correct to talk about Nadal in superlatives. Those are reserved for the corporate pet, feministic Federer. Nadal and Novak are a nuisance and are barely tolerated.

Posted by Vie 11/09/2010 at 06:25 PM

Wonderful piece!

Posted by naughty T....urbane gentleman 11/09/2010 at 06:33 PM

Ah Bitter

Posted by rafadoc...Waka Waka...Its Stanzi time! 11/09/2010 at 06:34 PM

Yeah Gauloises! Great to see you are a contributing writer! Loved this piece. Thanks!

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 11/09/2010 at 06:35 PM

arbiter: you should check out the pic of Taylor Dent next door. not flattering at all..

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 07:15 PM

Well I think Roger is the Master of Slice

Unless my eyes again decieve me

Also Rogers inside out f/hand when on is one of the best shots in tennis

NT Welcome!

Posted by susan 11/09/2010 at 07:18 PM

nice article. i especially liked the Mobius-strip tennis racquet.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Dear Wayne is Free,VamosWayne 11/09/2010 at 07:19 PM

Though Nole b/hand is his best shot and his defense on his b/.hand is just great.

Rafa's inside out f/hand to me will always be his best shot.

I love watching it one the clay his preparation is just wonderful to watch

His b/hand in 08 was a huge weapon.At RG 08 he was practising it and made sure it went flat.

Hmmm lately he has been depending too much on his f/.hand and the b/hand which was a huge weapon on the hard court has gone amiss.His b/hand slice is too inconsistant at times.Though worked well in Wimby and USO this year.

Posted by freddy 11/09/2010 at 09:00 PM

Delurking to wave to all TW regulars, and to congratulate Gauloises on a very fine piece of writing. Well done!!

Posted by Arun 11/09/2010 at 09:50 PM

hi, AM. Sorry didn't see your comment about Warney.
If any cricketer can pull it off though, it's him.

Posted by CL 11/09/2010 at 10:26 PM

Tim - Still there? Did I read that you have been watching the PBS 'new' Sherlock? What do you think?

Posted by CL 11/09/2010 at 10:32 PM

OOps...wrong thread...sorry...nothing to see here people...move along.

Posted by pogiako 11/09/2010 at 10:51 PM

I hope its between Thomas and Roger in the final!!!

Posted by just horsen 11/09/2010 at 11:23 PM

arbiter: yea, I agree that list is totally mixed up. There really wasn't an option that I would consider valid. Rafa's BH is a huge weapon, when it's on. But the key in that sentence is the word "when". As great a stroke as it can be, it's just not very consistent. So I for one, really don't think it should have been one of the choices. Some of the others I didn't get either.

Posted by linz 11/09/2010 at 11:46 PM

G! Amazing article. Made me feel like I was watching Quisner's match, and loved the insight on Malisse's match (not surprised he's not into it, he lost his mother this fall and I know was very close to her).

So glad you're a contributing writer, can't wait for the coverage the rest of the week (and the tweets!).

Posted by zenggi 11/10/2010 at 12:37 AM

Tremendous article, Gauloises! Thank you.
I "almost" regret choosing the other tournament instead of Paris to attend. No, it isn't true. :)
I certainly regret not meeting you this time. I hope you keep us informed for the rest of the week. I really enjoy your writing style.

Posted by Angel of the Surf (Flavia and Gisela YEC Doubles Champion and Winner of 7 Titles in 2010) 11/10/2010 at 12:43 AM

gauly - great article, you have a great style. Love the fact you reported on the dubs. If possible though could you go and watch some of Pico for me. I watched the Malisse and Ninemen match and was totally bored that I went and cooked dinner. Props of Malisse though playing out the year.

Posted by sisu 11/10/2010 at 07:29 AM

Never mind the praise, which is completely warranted, and whether or not we will see more of gauloises’ glorious reporting style, the real question for me is - Are you getting paid? ;))

This is high-level writing ability and I'd like to see more published. Thanks G!

Posted by Kim (Swiss in Brisbane) 11/10/2010 at 07:38 AM

Excellent writing!

Posted by jccccc 11/10/2010 at 07:59 PM

The article is good, but I infinitely prefer the Gauloises of New Balls, Please. I know you have to sound more "professional" for tennis.com, but it sounds too stiff and devoid of your true, delightful personality compared to how you used to write on your blog. Without the blog format, the magic is lost for me. Please start blogging again when you feel up to it! You're the BEST!!! xxoo

Posted by lollipop 11/10/2010 at 07:59 PM

Just wanted to stop by to congratulate Gaulioses on such an awesome post! I love your style, great piece all around! Looking forward to reading. seriously amazing :)

Posted by lollipop 11/10/2010 at 08:00 PM

argh typo, lol. meant to say, "looking forward to reading more"

Posted by Chris 11/12/2010 at 12:50 AM

I'm always on the lookout for a distinctive "voice" and I'm so happy to have found a new one! I'll be eagerly waiting for your post Ms. Gaul!

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