Richard Gasquet tries to knock off a top ten player in Rome. Davis Cup organizers have political decisions to make.

Rome

I talked a bit about Richard Gasquet recently. I suggested that he’s one of those players who are more comfortable being in the second tier than the top ten. I also suggested that his clay court swoon last year constituted an adjustment down to a ranking where he could find that comfort.

Today Gasquet played Fernando Verdasco in the third round at the Rome Masters event and this was a good test of my theory because Verdasco is now at number 8 while Gasquet is down to number 23. If Gasquet could beat Verdasco, my theory is probably wrong.

In the first game of the match, Gasquet unloaded one of his killer cross court backhands and followed that up with an even better one in the fifth game – this time as he was falling away from the ball after running down a hard Verdasco shot down the line. In the next game Verdasco’s confidence waned a bit and sunk even further when he missed a second serve by a mile. That gave Gasquet an opportunity for a break point but he put a tame slice into the net and Verdasco recovered to make a fantastic inside out forehand and win the game.

Gasquet’s still one of the best shotmakers in the game but he’s not mentally outplaying the big boys and you can see it by his results: he’s playing well in the smaller events and bombing out in the big ones. This year he reached the third round at the Australian Open and the second round in Indian Wells.

Gasquet continued to play aggressively but Verdasco got a break to go up 5-4. Then Gasquet turned smart and, with Verdasco serving for the set, he hit a ton of high deep balls to keep Verdasco back on his heels. A short return by Verdasco gave Gasquet a break point but it took four break points and a bad bounce for Gasquet to get the break back.

It was temporary, though, as Verdasco won the next two games and the first set. In the second set Gasquet was broken early then both players traded breaks thus giving Verdasco the match, 7-5, 6-4. This was much better on Gasquet’s part than his 6-3, 6-2, loss to Verdasco in Indian Wells and I expect him to make his way back to the top twenty pretty soon. But this was basically Verdasco playing like the top ten player he is and Gasquet playing like the top twenty play I think he is. As of now, my theory holds.

Rome is probably the worst place on the planet for foreign opponents. I remember when Italian fans used to throw small coins at them in matches against Italian players. They’re big on coins. Back then if you threw one coin into the Trevi Fountain in the heart of Old Rome, it meant you’d return to Rome some day. These days it has a different cultural interpretation. If you’re unmarried and throw three coins into the fountain it means you’ll get a marriage proposal. If you’re married and throw three coins into the fountain it means you’ll get that divorce you’ve been craving. I wonder if four coins means you’re hoping for gay marriage.

ATP Masters Series - Rome: Day One

Hawkeye makes it harder to cheat on the foreigners now but there were a few ridiculous attempts at bad line calls against Albert Montanes in his first round match with Italian Potito Starace. I’m not sure how Starace lost that match considering that he had all the momentum going into the tiebreaker and was up 5-1 once he got there.

I guess it was the windstorm. Clay was flying everywhere including into the players eyes. Pieces of papers were landing on the court, loose awnings were rippling and making a huge racket, and signs were blowing over. Honestly, it looked like the Lawrence of Arabia Open and Starace and his contacts couldn’t take it.

Starace served and volleyed to get to 7-7 in the tiebreaker and that’s pretty gutsy for a clay mucker, but Montanes is the better player and he finally put Starace away 10-8 in the tiebreaker then won the second set and the match, 7-6(8), 6-4.

Things are going pretty much to plan in the Rome draw with a few exceptions. Juan Monaco took out Andy Murray which is unfortunate for Murray but not all that surprising. We shouldn’t have expected him to turn into a clay court master overnight. I wasn’t surprised to see Nikolay Davydenko leave early as he’s barely recovered from his long injury and Gilles Simon is still hopeless in big events.

For me the most surprising match was Novak Djokovic’s 6-1, 6-1, knockout of Tommy Robredo. We may have been too hasty in giving Murray Djokovic’s number three ranking. And watch out for Juan Martin Del Potro. He reached a career high number 5 this month and he’s Djokovic’s next opponent. Basically I’m trying to generate enough excitement here to make up for what is probably a foregone conclusion as Rafa the Terminator continues to live up to his name.

Australia and India

Australia defaulted a Davis Cup match this week and that’s a pretty big deal because Australia could get a one year suspension as punishment. Australia refused to play in Chennai, India, and I have to say that I understand the decision

Sri Lanka is just off the coast of Chennai and it’s in the middle of a civil war as the Tamil Tigers fight the government to establish a separate Tamil state. In March, they attacked a bus carrying the Sri Lankan national cricket team to a match in Pakistan injuring at least six players. In November of last year, terrorists based in Pakistan attacked Mumbai, India, and killed at least 173 people. The Tamil Tigers didn’t target foreigners but the terrorists in Mumbai purposely targeted luxury hotels and the foreigners who stay there.

Earlier this year, Sweden held a Davis Cup tie with no spectators in Malmo. Sweden’s opponent was Israel and Malmo has a large Muslim population that criticized Israel’s recent Gaza invasion and threatened to disrupt the tie. By the time Stockholm offered to host the tie and resolve the situation, there wasn’t enough time left to organize moving the tie.

The India-Israeli tie should have been moved to a neutral site somewhere between the two countries geographically. But as the situation in Sweden should have told us, these days, Davis Cup organizers needs to be better prepared in such situations by following the political trail. Terrorism associated with Pakistan has increased while it has decreased in other areas of the world, and the ATP and WTA had just finished dealing with tournament organizers in Dubai who’d refused entry to Israeli player Shahar Peer before finally agreeing to give Israeli player Andy Ram a visa.

If there’s going to be a Davis Cup tie in an area affected buy a current political conflict, Davis Cup organizers must be prepared to make a decision on requests for change of venue much sooner to allow enough time to find an alternative site. Though organizers might protest that their job description doesn’t include political forecasting, two incidents on one year should convince them otherwise.

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