Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Serving It Fresh
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Serving It Fresh 12/21/2009 - 2:28 PM

Looking forward to the Aussie Open? If you haven’t reached that point yet this off-season, the match highlighted above might just get you there. The titanic and tiring third-rounder between Richard Gasquet and Fernando Gonzalez was played so long ago that I had to double-check the date to make sure it really did happen in 2009. It did, and if anything the clip above makes it look even more sensational than it was the first time around—these two guys did everything short of levitate out there. You know it was a very strong year for tennis when this was only its fourth-best match.

—Roddick-El Aynaoui, Safin-Federer, Serena-Sharapova, Safin-Agassi, Verdasco-Nadal, Baghdatis-Nalbandian: what is it about the Aussie Open that allows it to churn out so many paragons of high-quality tennis? First, there’s the medium-pace hard surface, which lets any type of player play his game—Gonzo and Gasquet can set up and hit their bombs, but also track the other guy’s down. At the same time, the court is fast enough to inspire them to hit big and try to end points at the net. 

The second thing the Aussie has going for it is that the players are as fresh as they’re going to get all season. Imagine the level of tennis if they had three months off! Or would that be too much time away? From the standpoint of this tournament, maybe the length of the off-season is ideal: There’s enough time for the guys to heal and practice, but not enough so that they get rusty.

—Some facts about this match: It was the first time these two guys had played each other. It lasted 4 hours, 9 minutes. Gonzo hit 85 winners and committed 51 errors; Gasquet’s ratio was a similarly impressive 80 to 58. Gonzo’s feet bled. Gasquet had a hole drilled in his toenail. At the end, a flare went off over the court.

—You rarely hear a crowd sound so into it right from the start. The Chilean fans, famous for their fervor, were matched this time by the French fans. Both groups are in full roar during the first game.

—Gasquet is into it from the start as well. We all know about his ability to find the zone, but I’d never seen him begin a match in that state—the crowd must have amped him up. When he hits an overhead winner from behind the baseline, it feels like this going to become a circus match.

You know Gasquet is hot when he’s hitting his down the line backhand and running crosscourt forehand for blatant winners. I’ve never seen anyone make it look so effortless. When he’s in this mood, it’s almost as if the ball and racquet take on a life of their own, and he can’t hit anything but perfect shots. Afterward, Gonzalez said Gasquet played like a “superhero” through the first two sets.

—Watching it the first time, I was hoping this might be a breakthrough for Gasquet. Even after he lost the fourth set, he kept fighting, which is not what I expected. He plays pinpoint serve and volley on a couple of crucial points late in the fifth, tattoos an outrageous forehand winner from the baseline to save one match point, and even tries his own backwards-shuffling, arms-pumping celebration dance (is that how he danced with Pamela in Miami, do you think?). Alas, it still wasn’t enough, and his season quickly went south. I watched Gasquet lose badly a month later to Fernando Verdasco in Indian Wells. Then he met the aforementioned Pamela and that was it for 2009.

—Gonzalez, on the other hand, makes everything look effort-ful. But give him credit for this one. He kept swinging with gusto and racing after everything even when he was down two sets. He saved a huge point on his serve at 7-7 in the fifth by guessing right and reflexing a volley for a winner. And after 82 winners over four hours, he still comes up with three more in the 22nd game of the fifth set, including a backhand bomb on match point. The guy was relentless. What did he get for his trouble? A chance to face Rafael Nadal in the next round, where he lose in straights. It doesn’t take long for these guys to start feeling not-so-fresh again.

Now are you ready for the Aussie Open?


Posted by Justin 12/21/2009 at 02:41 PM


Posted by SwissMaestro 12/21/2009 at 02:51 PM

Imagine what it would be like if Gasquet could sustain the above mentioned level of play through 70% of his matches during the season, you could only think the guy would have gotten multiple slam titles by now.

Posted by Master Ace 12/21/2009 at 03:04 PM

I also remembered that Richard came to the net over 90 times in that match and fought to the end despite losing that 2 set lead. With Richard being cleared from the "Pamela" incident, will he go back to playing good tennis like he did against Fernando G.

Posted by Master Ace 12/21/2009 at 03:06 PM

My 3 guesses left:
Roger/Andy R - Wimbledon F
Rafael/Fernando V - Australian Open SF
Rafael/Novak - Madrid SF

Steve's Recap
10 - Melanie Oudin vs Maria Sharapova - United States Open R32
9 - Taylor Dent vs Ivan Navarro - United States Open R64
8 - Radek Stepanek vs Ivo Karlovic - Davis Cup SF
7 - Rafael Nadal vs Roger Federer - Australian Open F
6 - Serena Williams vs Elena Dementieva - Wimbledon SF
5 - Juan Martin Del Potro vs Roger Federer - United States Open F
4 - Fernando Gonzalez vs Richard Gasquet - Australian Open R32

Posted by rafadoc 12/21/2009 at 03:14 PM

Thanks Steve. I have to say I always look forward to watching Gonzo. He is very entertaining, especially when he is playing this well.

MA: Thanks for the recap. I think you have good guesses for the top 3.

Posted by Mr. T. 12/21/2009 at 03:17 PM

Steve - It looks like you will surprise a few people with this pick, but how can one argue the choice after seeing those 10 minutes of power tennis - baseline winners, beautiful backhand winners, volley putaways, fast feet, good defense, etc. Gonzalez just kept bombing away from the baseline and Gasquet just kept hitting beautiful strokes until the end. One of those matches where neither player deserved to lose. And it is a testimony to the type of tennis created by the racquets - you would never see that kind of brave tennis with a wood racquet. It is also good to see a couple of gifted players - not the best but close - be recognized for one great tennis match.

Posted by Master Ace 12/21/2009 at 03:23 PM

Mr. T.,
Indeed this was a surprise pick as many people(like me) forgot all about this match but this was the first good match of 2010. A day after this one was Roger rallying from a 2 set deficit to defeat Tomas as he could not volley to save his life as he was blasting Roger off the baseline consistently.

Posted by mel 12/21/2009 at 03:27 PM

I was at this game!! It was pretty incredible, the crowd was going crazy, we had Chilean fans on one side of us and French on the other! Not much for us Kiwis to cheer about though!

It certainly was a fantastically entertaining match - I hope that both Gonzo and Gasquet can bring back this form for 2010.

My pick for the no 1 match would have to be Rafa and Verdasco, whilst the Wimby final was pretty amazing match, it was more all about the serve, whereas the Rafa/Fernando match had some amazing rallies.

Bring them on Steve.

Posted by Corrie 12/21/2009 at 03:43 PM

I think this was the best match of the whole year. I saw every sizzling moment of it,and I couldn't tear myself away, but the trouble is, not enough people did see it.

Posted by Mr. X 12/21/2009 at 05:24 PM

Good that you picked a match that wasnt watched by many, Steve. And by the highlights, it's truly deserving. Looks like an all-out war, which isnt all that surprising considering Gonzo was one of the players, and he apparently cared about the match. As for what he received for his troubles, at least his defeat against Nadal in the next round had more dignity than what he did in that final set at the USO.
With 3 left to go, i think it's pretty obvious that they are gonna be the matches Master Ace listed above. I guess the 3-setter will be No.3, and i'm curious to see which of the other 2 you pick as No.1, Steve, since different arguments could be made for both.

Posted by darthhelmethead 12/21/2009 at 05:25 PM

I keep expecting Gasquet to finally break through, and 09 looked like the year that he finally got some mental resiliance. He had a couple comebacks from a set down, this match, things were looking up. Then the drug suspension comes and I think we can kiss all that good sports psychology mojo away. Maybe the time away will make him appreciate the tour.

Posted by VN 12/21/2009 at 06:52 PM

I was just thinking about this match yesterday when I was in one of my many periods of getting excited for the 2010 Aussie Open! This was one of my very favourite tennis moments of 2009 and I was thinking that nobody remembered this beautiful little gem, especially amidst the (also beautiful) madness that took place in the later stages of the tournament. Lo and behold, just the next day Steve comes out with this piece as if he'd read my mind! Bravo on commemorating one of the great, if lesser-known, matches of the year, Steve!

Posted by SR 12/21/2009 at 07:05 PM

Wow, too bad I missed this one. Have been a great fan of Gasquet since the '07 Wimbledon QF v. Roddick - he had 90+ winners in that match and played absolutely gorgeous tennis (and came back from a 2-set deficit if memory serves). If he's on and focused, he can beat anyone. And oh, what a backhand. I know that's what he's celebrated for, but I still shake my head when I see his clean sweeping stroke. If only he could string seven matches together... Here's hoping he finds his game in '10.

I saw the three matches that we all think are going to be Steve's top 3. I'm gonna go with Rafa/Verdasco first, then Roger/Andy and finally Rafa/Novak (though I could almost argue that Rafa/Novak was even more compelling than Roger/Andy from a pure rally standpoint).

Great stuff, Steve - I'm really enjoy this series + the youtube highlight reels.

Posted by ncot 12/21/2009 at 09:05 PM

wow!!! it has everything indeed!thanks,man.

Posted by Nugget Rudberg 12/21/2009 at 09:29 PM

Steve, nicely captured, i was at this match for its entirety and have to say reeshar's approaches and volleys were of incredible standard for 2 sets plus. he dropped his serve, lazily and unexpectedly, in the first game of the third if I recall, and i immediately thought yep, this is going to 5. I gotta say the chilean supporters at the Aussie Open are fantastic, the benchmark.
chi chi chi le le le
viva chile!

Posted by Ali* 12/21/2009 at 10:15 PM

Hi Steve, Fantastic series of matches and comments to go with them so far.
As we all suspect the top 3 will be as per those selected by Master Ace, why is the Nadal/Sodderling match at RG not in 10. After Federer getting the 15th at Wimby surely that was the biggest story of the year??

(thinks for second) On court story!!!!!!!

Posted by Master Ace 12/21/2009 at 10:41 PM

Steve may surprise us and choose Rafael/Robin and leave out one of the 3 I mentioned earlier.

Posted by meretricula 12/22/2009 at 02:17 AM

all of the men's matches so far have been best-of-five, and I'm wondering if that's an actual requirement, in which case the Madrid SF would be disqualified. on the other hand, all of the matches so far (not just the men's!) have "gone the distance" which the Nadal-Soderling match at the French Open did not. also wondering whether a match in which only one player played really well (didn't see the match, but I'm told Nadal was shambolic) would be ranked as highly as third for the entire year. I won't deny I'm very curious to see how this list ends!

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 12/22/2009 at 02:41 AM

Hey, everyone. :)

Really glad this match made it to the list. I didn't see it as I rather think Rafa was playing Tommy Haas at the same time, and I watched that instead. I followed it on the SB and through comments at TW.

"Watching it the first time, I was hoping this might be a breakthrough for Gasquet." - me too, the way he didn't go away in the fifth was impressive to me. I wish he played that well more often.

Posted by rg.nadal ( ♫ Viva España!) 12/22/2009 at 03:29 AM

Hello all!
This match makes me sad.
jewell: Hi. Where is everyone?

Posted by beth 12/22/2009 at 12:20 PM

great match ! I saw so much of it - and Richard even had a match point went for the down the line backhand for a winner of the return - and missed it by "that " much
If only he had won this one - the whole year might have been different for him

Now - I just hope he can find this form again, as he has been cleared to play with no drug suspensions or appeals hanging over his head.
Good luck in 2010 , Richard !

and Gonzo too - I have always loved watching him play
This was a great pick , Steve
BTW - I was also at that IW fiasco against Verdasco - hard to believe that was the same player as in this clip

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