Roger Federer go to the quarterfinals but he’s looking shaky and Richard Gasquet needs a few anatomy lessons.

2009 Australian Open: Day 7

As I was getting ready to go to bed last night I saw that Roger Federer was down two sets to none to Tomas Berdych in his fourth round match at the Australian Open. I was surprised to see Berdych’s name in that line score but not so surprised to see Roger there. Roger has already lost to Andy Murray twice this year and though he probably treated those events as tuneup time as he likes to ease into the season, he can’t have missed the psychological importance of losing his last two sets 6-2 to Murray who has now beaten him four straight times.

And here’s another four. This is only the fourth time Roger has come back from two sets down to win a match in his career, most likely because he didn’t often need to. Now he does. Roger broke Berdych at 5-4 in the third set to get one set back and normally, I would have gone to bed thinking he’d pull it out. It is Berdych after all. He’s been ranked as high as number nine but has reached a total of one slam quarterfinal his entire career. Now you can see why the ATP changed the way rankings are calculated to favor good results at big events.

Instead I slept restlessly but I needn’t have. Roger pulled out some magic and he was already up 3-1 in the fourth set when he hit a slice backhand sorta drop shot that left Berdych flat-footed. Those were the days weren’t they? You knew you’d see something magnificent in every match. That slice/dropshot was part of the problem, however, because Roger was down two sets because he was spraying his hard core offensive shots all over the place, and he got back into the match partially because Berdych made errors on critical points. And then, at 4-2 in the fourth set, Berdych tweaked his already injured left leg and he spent the rest of the match trying to end points as soon as possible.

That worked better than it should have. Roger needed a bunch of aces to hold serve and win the fourth set when he should have been running Berdych’s shots down. Roger looked more like his old self in the fifth set but I’m telling you, I’d put a few hundred bucks on Juan Martin Del Potro beating Roger in the next round, and I’d wager $500 on Novak Djokovic in the round after that if I’m wrong about Del Potro. I believe online gambling is illegal in the US else I’d ask for takers.

As soon as I saw the Chileans in the crowd explode with pleasure after Fernando Gonzalez hit a hard shot down the line at the beginning of the third set tiebreaker, I knew Richard Gasquet was in trouble. Gasquet had won the first two sets of the third round match but he’s been here before, and the situation goes to the heart, so to speak, of Gasquet’s career at the moment: he’s searching for his lion heart and Dorothy is nowhere to be seen.

In April of last year, Gasquet bagged out of a Davis Cup match against Andy Roddick even though France desperately needed him and it got worse from there. He seemed to have forgotten the reason he plays tennis. After failing to win a match in Rome or Hamburg, he took off a month to find it. He changed coaches and headed into the grass season with a renewed sense of purpose and the same root problem. He got up two sets on Murray at Wimbledon then lost the third set tiebreaker, lost the fourth set 6-2, and lost the match.

The root problem is clear: failure to show courage when the game calls for it. And is it a cultural problem or a systemic problem? Has Gasquet been playing tennis on the strength of others’ expectations rather than his own burning desire? Have those expectations crippled him at big moments? Or is he a very talented tennis player who just doesn’t have the mental fortitude to consistently reach the later rounds of a slam?

Gonzo thought he’d won the third set tiebreaker 7-5, but the linesperson made a late out call on a Gonzo volley and there was no Hawkeye on Margaret Court Arena to review the call. Someone, of course, yelled out right in the middle of Gasquet’s service motion but he managed to get a match point. Could he close it out?

No, but he made a beautiful volley for a winner to get to 10-10 and he and Gonzalez put on a better fight than you’ll see on HBO pay per view boxing any day. Gonzalez took the last two points of the tiebreaker to win it 12-10 and Gasquet lost the fourth set 6-2 – look familiar?, but this was a knockdown drag out fight of the highest order. Both players limped through the fifth set on troublesome toes and both players were grandstanding for their people. Gasquet actually did a victory dance when he got two break points at 4-4 in the fifth set, but Gonzo put in three good serves to get to 5-4 and put the Chileans into momentary heaven.

Gasquet had done something wonderful by this time. He’d earned the respect of the Chileans. They still yelled crazy for their guy but they were respectfully quiet for the points and Gasquet had whipped up the naturally more reticent French crowd to a respectable level of competitive craziness.

Gasquet got a break point at 7-7 – there’s no fifth set tiebreaker here – but Gonzo attacked the net to save it, and on the next point he uncorked a fabulous passing shot that left Gasquet with a rueful smile on his face. Gonzo was up 10-9 when he lunged for a winner off a Gasquet serve wide to get a match point. Gasquet came back with a hammer forehand winner just inside the line and then let out a piercing scream of relief. Gonzo finally caught on that Gasquet was living at the net – 99 approaches for the match and that’s no typo – and hit a lob for his second match point then finally put an end to this magnificent match.

A flare went off in the middle of the Chileans and it looked like the aftermath of an Israel air strike for a while there. Red smoke filled the arena. How the hell did they get a flare inside? Jeez, don’t they have security checks down there? Do I have to start taking a gas mask to tennis matches now?

Nobody who saw this match could say that Gasquet doesn’t have a big heart but maybe that’s not what he’s looking for. If a lion heart gives you courage, what body part is it that gives you eminent domain – the unshakable feeling that the match is yours for the taking? I think it’s somewhere up there in our noggin. Maybe scientists will find an area of the brain called eminent domain.

Until that time, Gasquet should be conducting his own research into the subject.

Honestly, I missed seeing Marion Bartoli take out Jelena Jankovic by the shocking score of 6-1, 6-4. What the hell happened? Someone, please, check in. And speaking of misses, despite my prediction that Jelena Dokic would not return to the upper echelon of the sport, she rolled into the quarterfinals with a three set victory over Alisa Kleybanova. Hmmmph.

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