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Richard Gasquet had come back from two sets down and had his third chance to push his match against Andy Roddick to a fifth set. After exchanging a few ground strokes Gasquet unleashed a backhand down the line and let out an escalating cry of dominance as the ball landed out of Roddick’s reach.
Gasquet turned to his box and punched his fist and so we had the exclamation mark announcing the arrival of the latest member of the current crowd of young ATP players. Gasquet had officially transformed himself from an inconsistent and fragile player into a confident young man.
At the beginning of Wimbledon, youngsters Andy Murray, Tomas Berdych, and Gasquet had yet to reach the quarterfinal of a slam. Murray didn’t show up because his wrist had not healed and Berdych joined Gasquet in the quarterfinals today but lost in straight sets to Rafael Nadal.
After getting up 7-6 in the fifth set, Gasquet got two match points on Roddick’s serve – two chances to close out the match. Roddick’s coach, Jimmy Connors, leaned forward with a worried look on his face. Gasquet hit a shot at Roddick’s feet and Roddick volleyed it into the net. The U.S. had just watched its Wimbledon future passed by the present. Roddick was the U.S.’s best shot to win Wimbledon and Wimbledon was Roddick’s best shot at a second slam.
The youngsters move better than Roddick and their all-court games trump his big serve and forehand. It’s not likely to get easier for Roddick and Murray has already beaten him here. James Blake could win the U.S. Open or the Australian Open if he gathers himself mentally. We know Blake has never won a match from two sets down as Gasquet did today because Blake has never won a five set match. Blake is also 27 years old to Gasquet’s 21, but there’s always hope.
There was an even better match on the same court and it was a meeting between the two most advanced members of the youngsters: Marcos Baghdatis and Novak Djokovic. At first it looked like this match might mirror the classic match between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi at the 2001 U.S. Open. Sampras won that four set match which featured four tiebreakers with neither player losing his serve.
The first three sets were decided by tiebreakers with Djokovic winning the first two and Baghdatis the third. It would go five sets. Baghdatis had the trainer out to look at his arm and Djokovic had his back massaged before Djokovic finally pulled it out, 7-6, 7-6, 6-7, 4-6, 7-5. Could it be? Is another rivalry forming on the ATP tour? Aaaaah, sighs of relief all round. The future for U.S. men might not look good but the tour is in good hands.
Djokovic gets Nadal in the semifinals for his reward and Gasquet gets Federer who had a much less exciting four set win over Juan Carlos Ferrero.
Over on the women’s side, another French player made a huge breakthrough and unlike Gasquet – we were expecting him to stand up one of these days – Marion Bartoli shocked us. Until two weeks ago, she’d never been past the quarterfinals at a Tier I or Tier II event let alone a slam, and now she’s in a final and she did it by beating Justine Henin.
You have to think that Henin ran out of gas because she has the game to play on fast surfaces. She reached the final in six of the last seven slams and won just two of them. It’s a testament to her mental strength that she got that far because she still battles a virus that affects her immune system. I have the same virus she does and a few others to boot. The minute I overwork myself, I come down with something or other. Playing two slams within a month of each other cannot help her situation.
We won’t know until tomorrow whether France will pass the U.S. women because that’s when Bartoli will meet Venus Williams in the women’s final. We do know, however, that the future is even bleaker for the U.S. women than the men.
Look at it like this: there have been 40 slams in the last ten years and U.S. women have won half of them. Fourteen of those slams were won by Venus and Serena Williams, the other winners have now retired, and there’s no one coming up behind them. For as long as Venus and Serena want to play, however, the U.S. is in good shape and if one sister goes down, the other will pick up the pieces.
Serena went out to Henin in the quarterfinals after injuring her calf and thumb in a dramatic fourth round win over Daniela Hantuchova. Venus took up the slack by putting a fourth round whomping on Maria Sharapova reminiscent of Serena’s two victories over Sharapova earlier this year. Serena lost just three games in each of those matches, Venus lost only four.
No, Sharapova doesn’t have a Williams sisters’ complex, she has a strategical problem. Sharapova’s entourage told us she would develop a better all-court game as she matured but it hasn’t happened yet. You can’t hit the Williams sisters off the court and Sharapova doesn’t move as well as some of the younger players.
Unlike Roddick, Sharapova’s competition isn’t quite as strong except for the sisters. Do you really think
See you bright and early Sunday morning when Pat and I will be live blogging the men’s final.
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