French Open: Nadal and Gasquet – follow the leader

Richard Gasquet and Rafael Nadal were born fifteen days apart eighteen years ago. They’ve both blown up on the tennis scene recently and everyone wants to see this match. Gasquet hits the ball as hard as anyone from anywhere on the court and sometimes that anywhere means four or five feet behind the baseline. Nadal, well, he just runs you into the ground and wins lots of clay court tournaments. Five this year alone and it’s only May.

Nadal is ahead in his development at this point but Gasquet is gaining. He is one of two players who have defeated Roger Federer this year.

When you post an ad on craigslist, you can choose to say “yes, it is o.k. to transmit this posting into outer space.” That is what happened to the first five games of this match. I have since signed up for ESPN Classic. I can now watch Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins break a backboard and see Rocky V for the nth time.

Gasquet serves to start the second set but serves two double faults and he’s already down 0-1. This is the same way the first set started. Nadal won that 6-4.

In the second game, Gasquet comes to the net on all four points and wins the game at love. He likes to hit the inside out forehand then come in and volley to the open court. Gasquet is a power player and he’s aggressive.

Andy Roddick also has a power game but doesn’t come in as much as he could. I think Roddick is being left behind by a few kinds of players in today’s game. First, by the all court player like Federer. Roddick has beaten him only once in nine tries. Second, by a player like Gasquet who hits the ball hard and gets to the net frequently.

Nadal wins the fourth game at love then Gasquet plays some loose points on his serve to go down a break yet again. Here is where Gasquet needs to improve. He is still too inconsistent.

You can see how Nadal’s forehand drives people crazy. It’s like a lefthanded pitcher throwing a curveball that breaks to his left – it tails away from right handed players. It’s already hard enough to slide into a ball instead of reach for it when playing on clay. This just makes it harder.

Even though Nadal has twenty pounds on Gasquet, Gasquet has the harder shot. It’s just that Nadal is relentless. That takes a different kind of strength. Nadal has the mental strength and physical conditioning to get to everything and hit it back all day long. Not only that but it’s 88 degrees on the court today and then there is the pressure of being a French tennis player at the French Open. Gasquet was on the cover of a French tennis magazine when he was nine years old. What is it with sport’s organizations? Why do they do that? It’s like eating your young.

Gasquet hangs in there well enough to get to 3-5 but he’s facing set point on his serve when we get to the best point of the match and probably the tournament. Gasquet hits a backhand approach off a short Nadal return then volleys a ball that lands on the baseline behind Nadal who somehow gets to it and pops it up in the air. Gasquet smashes a backhand overhead but Nadal is waiting way behind the baseline to jump up in the air and hit a backhand into the open court. Lights out. It’s probably over. Nadal punches the air and backpedals his way to his chair in celebration.

In the break between sets, Gasquet asks to see the tour medical doctor. He’s suffering from the heat. Even so, he doesn’t do anything about it. I’d at least be wrapping my head in ice between games.

Gasquet was on the cover of a French tennis magazine when he was nine years old. What is it with sport’s organizations? Why do they do that? It’s like eating your young.

Everyone can see that Gasquet is having trouble so Nadal tries to run him all over the place while Gasquet tries to shorten the points by coming in even sooner. They trade breaks and Gasquet manages to stay on serve til he serves at 2-3. On break point he runs Nadal left and right then sets up a perfect backhand winner down the line. But he doesn’t quite have the energy to get it over the net and now it really is over. Nadal wins the last two games and the match, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

As they meet at the net, Nadal puts his arm around Gasquet and asks if he’s o.k. It’s a sweet thing to do but it also sends a message: “Just hang in there fella, you’ll catch up soon but right now I’m in charge.”