Q & A with Richard Gasquet

Richard Gasquet, the 26 year old Frenchman reached a career high no. 7 and made it to the semis at Wimbledon in 2007:

TL- What do you think about the Andy Roddick retirement?
RG: For 8 or 9 years he was on top. He was no. 1 in the world. He is a great one.

TL:Do you know that because of your game you have been called a little Federer?
RG:Yes people have said that.

TL:What do you think of Federer?
RG:He is no. 1. He is never sick. He never retires.He talks to every player and is the President of the Tennis Council. Everyone respects him.

TL:How have you done against him?
RG:I have beaten him twice on clay. I have lost many other times (10).

TL:Roland Garros is a great site,especially court no.one.
RG:Yes it is but they are tearing that one down and I don’t know why.

TL:Are the top four really that much better?
RG:Yes they are. They are very strong mentally. They have a big advantage at Slams.

Sliderman To Take on the Djoker

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Gael Monfils was so far back behind the baseline he could have leaned on it and left his silhouette of sweat against the blue back wall like a chalk outline of a corpse. But when it mattered most, an exuberant Monfils elevated his competitive spirit leaving Richard Gasquet looking emotionally dead on arrival.

In a match of friends and former doubles partners who ooze French flair with each swing of the racquet, Monfils broke Gasquet’s serve, nerve and mind in an entertaining 6-4, 7-5, 7-5 victory. Monfils saved a set point in the second set and roared back from a 3-5 deficit in the third set to become the first Frenchman to reach the US Open quarterfinals since Arnaud Clement in 2000.

“I tried to be very tough and hard with him, showing him that I’m the man and I’m the leader,” Monfils said of Gasquet. “So I think I try also to get him a bit in the head, to show him like I will be strong and he might hit a good shot, but it’s okay. For me it’s nothing. I will try to reach every ball and show him…if he come in I will be everywhere.”

The quarterfinal match between Monfils and Novak Djokovic, who dismissed Mardy Fish, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 to reach his sixth straight Grand Slam quarterfinal, should be a shot-making spectacle between two players who cover the court as quickly as if playing on roller blades.

It sounds like a battle of the super heroes pitting the Djoker against Slider Man, Monfils’ nickname for his sliding, skidding retrievals across the court.

“He’s physically one of the most prepared and strongest guys on the tour,” Djokovic said. “We have a lot of respect for each other. We grew up together….He’s kind of flashy. If he starts playing well, he can beat anyone because he’s so fast and so athletic and so strong that he can get a lot of balls back. I just have to be patient and wait for my chances.”

When he’s on his game and playing with confidence Gasquet is one of the most spectacular shotmakers in the sport. Winners can stream from his racquet like all the right answers on a test, but the Frenchman has a fragile psyche at times and must add some grit to accompany his glamorous stroke production in order to return to the top 20.

Gasquet’s brilliant one-handed backhand is one of the most beautiful strokes in the sport, but when he missed a challenging backhand pass up the line on set point, Monfils knew he could break Gasquet mentally.

“I got lucky in the first set point he had in the second set because he could like pass me easy,” Monfils said. “But he showed me at the time he was not that good mentally. He show me he was, I won’t say weak, but it was like shaky a bit. Then I knew he missed and I knew if I closed this game then (I) will break for sure if I put pressure on him and I was right.”

Monfils, who is not exactly a pillar of mental strength himself, exchanged a French kiss with Gasquet after the match and said the fact Gasquet doesn’t embrace pressure or loud crowds played to his advantage.

“Richard, he doesn’t really like pressure. He love like good play not (tough) play,” Monfils said. “He don’t like a lot of crowd around, the crowd involved. He doesn’t like to see the opponent like show emotions. (I) just played with that, play with his mind and that was it.”

Seeing Gasquet crumble across the net, Monfils did what he does best: stirred the crowd up with both his eye-popping speed and sprinting shots and by exhorting the fans with the wave of his arms.

“They helped me for sure in the second set.  After I served the set point, I think I ask a bit the crowd to get involved, and they did,” Monfils said. “Then was great.  That’s why, you know, I broke him straightaway, because I had like positive energy.  I love when it’s intense.  I love it.  It make me feel like I’m stronger again. So for sure when the crowd get involved I play my best tennis.”

Seeking his fourth consecutive trip to the US Open semifinals, Djokovic is a decided favorite against quarterfinal opponent Gael Monfils.

In an all-French fourth round meeting, the 17th-seeded Monfils broke Richard Gasquet mentally in scoring an entertaining 6-4, 7-5, 7-5 victory. Monfils saved a set point in the second set and roared back from a 3-5 deficit in the third set to send the fragile fellow Frenchman packing and become the first French quarterfinalist since Arnaud Clement in 2000.

“I tried to be very tough and hard with him, showing him that I’m the man and I’m the leader,” Monfils said of Gasquet. “So I think I try also to get him a bit in the head, to show him like I will be strong and he might hit a good shot, but it’s okay. For me it’s nothing. I will try to reach every ball and show him…if he come in I will be everywhere.”

The Djokovic-Monfils match pits two of the fastest, most charismatic, flamboyant and sometimes flakiest players in men’s tennis. They are two men who play as if empowered by the belief that no ball is beyond their reach which should create a highly entertaining match.

“Gael is very charismatic and very athletic,” Djokovic said. “He slides a lot and so do I so I guess there’s going to he a lot of sliding between him and me.”

Djokovic is 4-0 lifetime vs. Monfils, including a controversial 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(5), 0-6, 7-5 triumph in the 2005 US Open first round in which some spectators believed Djokovic resorted to gamesmanship in pulling a lengthy injury time out to rest and recover.

Their most recent encounter saw Djokovic outduel Monfils and silence the Parisian crowd in an explosively entertaining, 6-2, 5-7, 7-6(3), victory in the Paris Indoor final last November.

Master showman Monfils, who has entertained the New York City crowd with his electrifying shotmaking skills on the run, his expressiveness and even his impromptu post-match dance moves, is hoping he can work the crowd into a festive frenzy.

“I can get the crowd behind me,” Monfils said. “I know him perfectly. We had like always a tough match. And then, damn I had revenge to take it because he won against me at home in Bercy (Paris). So this time I hope to win.”

Richard Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Monfils and Gasquet Will Be A Fair Fight

Careening into the corner with all the speed of a man vaulting onto the court from a fleeing flat-bed truck, Gael Monfils skidded into a sliding split with so much force a piece of his K-Swiss sneaker came flying off into the air. Too engaged in his passionate pursuit of the ball, Monfils had more pressing matters on his mind: avoid French kissing the blue wall that loomed large in his path.

Monfils skidded to a stop before the collision, but even when Monfils loses a point he entertains.

The 17th-seeded Frenchman fought off Janko Tipsarevic, 7-6(4), 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-4 on the Grandstand Court.

Meanwhile, on Court 11, Monfils’ friend and former doubles partner Richard Gasquet downsized towering South African Kevin Anderson, 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-5, to set up an appealing French fourth round showdown.

Six Frenchmen — Monfils, Gasquet, Gilles Simon, Michael Llodra, Paul-Henri Mathieu and Arnaud Clement — started this day of play still alive in the men’s draw.

Second-seeded Roger Federer dismissed Mathieu, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, on Ashe Stadium and Fish fought off the 32-year-old Clement in a stirring 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 triumph to advance to a fourth-round meeting with either good friend and frequent golf buddy James Blake or third-seeded Novak Djokovic.

Monfils vs. Gasquet may well be one of the most exciting fourth-round clashes on the men’s side. Certainly Fish’s fourth-rounder will garner the most attention of any round of 16 match and deservedly so. But if you derive pure pleasure from seeing skilled shotmakers paint the court with impressionistic imagination then the first US Open meeting between the pair is the popcorn match of the fourth round.

Both Gasquet and Monfils are capable of producing eye-popping winners from virtually any position on court and both are fascinating to watch because they will drop back so far behind the baseline you might think they’re heading to Hoboken before dashing forward to net.

“I think Richard is more talented than me in couple ways,” Monfils said. “Like he can adapt more about the conditions.  Then I think I’m stronger than him physically, and maybe a bit mentally, also. Sometime he is like too defensive, like me.  So actually it will be a good match, and we will see who’s going to put like more pressure on the opponent.”

The animated Monfils plays with such explosiveness — and exuberant enthusiasm — he should consider enlisting a stunt double to celebrate his winners as the practice has proven to be a health hazard for him in the past. Monfils’ celebratory leap abruptly came to a calamitous crash landing in Madrid in October of 2006 when the festive Frenchman strained ligaments in his right ankle on an awkward landing after a post-point jump of jubilation in the second set of his Madrid match with Dominik Hrbaty. The injury limited him to one match for the rest of the 2006 season.

Avoiding a collision with the wall today, Monfils used his speed to force Tipsarevic, who was bothered by a bad ankle and took treatment for a strained hamstring, into pulling the trigger quickly in points.

Tipsarevic played powerful, passionate and crowd-pleasing tennis in his four-set triumph over Andy Roddick in the second round but poured so much of himself into the match he was physically depleted today.

“That wasn’t the main reason I lost,” Tipsarevic said. “I’m sad to say I am not fit enough to progress in the tournament. I just couldn’t execute. Gael is a big-time player. He’s extremely tough to make shots against because he gets to so many balls. I had 39 aces in the first two matches and just four today. Yes, I was feeling pain and was frightened a bit about my leg, but the leg had almost nothing to do with my loss.”

A former junior World No. 1, Monfils won every junior major except for the US Open.

An NBA fanatic who is a Carmelo Anthony fan, the 6-foot-4, loose-limbed Monfils has an elastic ability to bend his body into positions previously realized only by cartoon characters and contortionists. He thrives off the buzz New York City fans bring to the Open.

“I love the atmosphere.  I love the city, also,” Monfils said. “I mean, actually the States when I was young, and I was like looking for two things:  One, the Orange Bowl, and another thing the US Open junior for sure, and I didn’t (win either). I fail like twice in final in Orange Bowl.  I came here with injury the year when I won the other three (junior Grand Slams). I mean, here is like now I’m in seniors, so I really want to win this one, also.  I love the surface here; I love the crowd; I love the Ashe Stadium.  So I feel very good and comfortable here.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Davydenko Dumped by Gasquet

Sixth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko became the highest-seeded man to fall from the US Open field in suffering a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 second-round setback to Richard Gasquet on the Grandstand court. The two-time US Open semifinalist had a visceral response to his loss —  Davydenko is prepared to get trashed.

Actually, the 29-year-old Russian is ready to toss his racquets in the trash. Davydenko, who endorses Dunlop and wears Dunlop apparel has been playing with his old, unmarked Prince frame, but vowed to throw those in the garbage and actually begin playing with Dunlop in his next tournament.

“I talked to my brother and I will change all my racquets,” Davydenko said after the match. “I will completely change to Dunlop and throw all of my (old) racquets in the garbage.”

While the frames will take the fall for the lose, Davydenko, who missed 11 weeks after breaking his left wrist in Indian Wells and has won back-to-back matches just once since launching his comeback in June in Halle, concedes his issues may be more mental than physical or technical.

“I don’t know if it’s a wrist problem or a head problem,” Davydenko said, stretching his legs out before him and staring down at his shoelaces for a moment. “After my injury, I play everything bad. I change from 18-string Prince to play 16-string during hard courts to try to get more control and top spin, but I have no confidence, no baseline game.”

In addition to an equipment change, he’s contemplating a head change.

“Maybe I need to go somewhere to change my brain,” Davydenko deadpanned.

It was the first meeting between the pair in five years and while Davydenko hugs the baseline, takes the ball earlier and theoretically should be able to take the first strike in rallies it was Gasquet who took control in the baseline rallies in registering his second top 10 win of the season and first since he claimed his sixth career title beating Fernando Verdasco in Nice.

The 38th-ranked Frenchman has top 10 talent, who reached the US Open round of 16 in both 2005 and 2006, will play either No. 26 seed Thomaz Bellucci or big-serving Kevin Anderson for a place in the fourth round.

Asked to assess Gasquet’s level of play, Davydenko sounded stumped.

“It’s tough  for me to say because I cannot return first serve. He was just pushing me back in the middle with high balls and I was destroying myself.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

A Lighter Fish Swims At The Open

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Going into this year’s open, Mardy Fish was having a very impressing year. A finals loss in Cincinnati to Roger Federer is nothing to sneeze at, so much so that many a prognosticator was picking Fish to be America’s best chance to win the Men’s Singles.

But of course, they have to play the matches and Fish survived a first round scare to Czech Jan Hajek in five sets, 6-0 3-6 4-6 6-0 6-1.

“I won”, Fish laughed when asked at what happened today. “No, these guys are good, man.  You know, I started out great.  I made one unforced error in the first set, entire first set.  Played a bad game early in the second and he held, served well, held throughout there.  4‑All in the third set he hit four winners, broke me there, and played a long game the next game and he held.

“Next thing you know, you’re down two sets to one thinking, you know, maybe you’re going home.  That’s not where I want to be right now, so I was lucky to turn it around and play a little more aggressive.  I was playing a little too defensive.  You know, lucky enough to turn it around.”

It’s funny because Fish has been a journeyman for most of his career but at age 28, he seems to have put it all together by watching his diet, while going into a fitness regimen.

“I feel like a completely different person, playing like a completely different player, and able to do things that I’ve never been able to do before,” Fish said.  “Hopefully it’s a career thing.”

And he is seeing the results, because in Cincinnati he beat Gilles Simon, Fernando Verdasco, Richard Gasquet, Andy Murray, and Andy Roddick, which is no small task to say the least.

“I feel so much different, as well,” he said.  “You know, I can look at pictures, and some pictures I might look okay and some, you know, not.

“Even from 2009 Wimbledon, I mean, you know, it’s almost embarrassing to think about as a professional athlete or a professional tennis player.  I mean, we have to be in such good shape.  It’s pretty crazy how I kind of got away with it ‑ for a little while, at least.”

All of this showed today as Fish was on the ropes to Hajek, but with temperatures in the mid-90s, the Czech wilted, while Fish enjoyed the heat, like…well a fish enjoys water.

“Yes, it’s hot,” he thought. “This is probably the hottest it’s gonna be here.  But, I mean, from what we went through this summer, what John and I went through this summer in Atlanta, I mean, it’s just not even ‑‑ I can’t tell you.  It’s not even close.  It’s not even ‑‑ I mean, it’s 50 degrees less, I’m telling you, and no humidity, so it just feels nice. It just feels kind of hot.”

And even with the heat, Fish endured. And many a champion has a five set scare in the first round or two. Today, Fish survived the test and the heat.

The French Brings Chnages

Ah, spring in Paris and yes that means the French Open is underway at Roland Garros.

The second major of the season may be the toughest of the four majors to win. The clay courts at Roland Garros make it tough for many of the top players, as they are used to the hard courts or grass.

And in the first three days, there have been a few scares out there. Yesterday, Andy Murray – who was also feeling under the weather – dropped the first two sets to Richard Gasquet, only to rebound to make the second round.

Then earlier today, Andy Roddick, who seems primed to finally win another major this season, had to survive a five-setter against Jarkko Nieminen, 6-2  4-6 4-6 7-6  6-3.

“It’s not easy,” Roddick said.  “I mean, definitely, you know, spending three days in bed in Madrid wasn’t the way we wrote it up, you know. That was bad. That was not, you know, the preparation we wanted. We did the best we could. We scrambled last week and got two matches out at an XO. You know, XO is never the same.

“You know, so as far as preparation physically and in practice, it was good. But, you know, like you mentioned, it’s or like I mentioned, it’s not the same.

“It definitely was less than perfect, but I put some time in today.”

The biggest problem is the footing. Players enjoy stopping on a dime, which isn’t there with the clay courts. Instead they slip, putting uneasiness in their games as they slide up and down the baseline.

That’s why the clay court specialists seem to dominate with Rafael Nadal dominating the men’s side up until last year and the woman’s draw seems to be wide open.

Murray has season winning the French will be a physical and mental challenge. It’s a very different type of hit on the ball where they have to put more topspin on the return in order to get the right bounce.

“I think the ceiling is a little bit different on clay for me, but the mindset of going into a day doesn’t change. You go in and you try and battle and do the best you can. You see what happens.”

“I think the option of how you go about it is pretty simple. I’m aware that it’s probably on a worse surface. I’m aware of the challenges that it brings. Doesn’t change going into a day what I want to accomplish.”

Of course, there are weather issues as well. Spring Parisian showers mean muddier courts, slowing down the match to almost a crawl. Roland Garros is planning putting a roof on its new center court, but that’s going to be completed in 2013 or 2014, so that’s something else they needs to be dealt with.

All of this means it will be a very interesting two week. Expect an upset or two along the way, because with the clay courts, you never know what will happen.