The Rogers Cup in Toronto last week was certainly an opportunity for those who showed up there with the withdrawals of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and several other top men who competed in the Olympics the week before. But if someone was going to be a surprise finalist, I’m sure few would have penciled in Richard Gasquet’s name to be the one to take on defending champion Novak Djokovic in the final Sunday.
Or maybe they should have. Gasquet has long elicited sighs of delight from fans for his often magical one handed backhand, while at the same time earning groans of disappointment after squandering chances in big matches. Despite his early promise, the Frenchman has long been viewed as an underachiever, especially with the recent climb of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to become France’s number one player. But that perception could well change, especially with the consistent year Gasquet has been having in 2012 that has seen him reach the fourth round of each Major, defeat Federer in Rome, and reach two finals including Toronto this past weekend that has propelled Gasquet to No. 13 in the world this week.
Gasquet, who still plays too far back behind the baseline at times (but then what Frenchman doesn’t), has been showing increased confidence and emotion on court this year, something we’re not used to seeing from the rather introverted Beziers native. That was certainly the case during his run to the Olympic bronze medal in men’s doubles with Julien Benneteau, that often saw Gasquet throwing in fist pumps galore. Some of that could be due to his recent coaching alliance with former pro Sebastian Grosjean and Riccardo Piatti, who said at the start of the year that they would help Gasquet manage his emotions and learn to be more aggressive on the court.
But Gasquet, especially if he wants to return to the top ten (his career high was No. 7 back in 2007), must learn to manage his emotions even more so when he gets to a final. After being thumped 6-3, 6-2 by Djokovic yesterday, Gasquet admitted afterwards that being in his first Masters 1000 final since Toronto back in 2006 was a bit overwhelming for him. And though Djokovic by winning his third title in Canada proved again why he has separated himself from the rest of the tour, it will take more performances like Gasquet had last week that included wins over Tomas Berdych, Mardy Fish, and John Isner to prove that the Frenchman can not only return to the top ten, but stay there as Tsonga has done.
If Gasquet takes his good week in Toronto and uses it as springboard to even better success this year is still open to debate. At 26, Gasquet is certainly at an age where he can improve in all areas, but confidence is often a hard thing to hold onto for many players and it could well be that despite all the prodding of Grosjean and Piatti, ultimately Gasquet himself will have to decide how badly he wants to try and be among the very best. That’s easier said than done, especially in this time of the “Big Four” who continue to dominate the biggest events, but we’ve certainly seen players like Janko Tipsarevic and Nicolas Almagro defy conventional expectation that they would stay stuck in the top 20 for the rest of their careers to become frequent members of the top 10 in the last two years. Gasquet certainly has the game to join them, but again it all comes down to belief for him, something that seems to be at long last finally emerging from him.
Despite coming up short against Djokovic, the Frenchman certainly surprised even some of his longtime fans by grinding through several tough back to back matches against top ten players in Toronto and as result, one can’t rule out that Gasquet won’t pull off a few more surprises at the U.S. Open later this month. In a game full of players who all seem to hit the same exact groundstrokes with the same exact game plan, the Gallic flair of Gasquet is always a pleasure to watch. But only time will tell if Gasquet will use his improvement in 2012 to become a mainstay of the top ten or remain a player that fans flock to watch but at the same time often wonder to themselves, “Ah Richard, what might have been.”