The 2004 French Open final, which to this day remains my favourite major final, is often remembered as the match where Guillermo Coria “choked”.
Coria, who arrived in Paris the third seed and favourite to lift the Coupes des Mousquestaires, raced to a two-set lead in the final against his compatriot, Gastón Gaudio.
It seems somewhat unfair, however, to claim that Coria “choked” on the red clay of the Philippe Chatrier Court. He did, after all, suffer from cramp in the fourth set.
Gaudio also played his part, battling on, despite admitting that he felt like quitting after losing the first two sets.
With the beauty of hindsight, it’s a good job that he didn’t throw in the towel. The Argentine, nicknamed “El Gato”(The Cat in Spanish), became the first man in 70 years to win a major title having saved match points, as well as being the fifth lowest ranked player to win a Slam. He was the world No. 44 prior to the tournament.
Since winning the French Open Gaudio’s career has had a distinct downward trajectory. One reason for this descent in the rankings is injuries, but the only rational explanation for such a slide in form is because Gaudio is, and will always be, erratic.
When he’s feeling good and relaxed, Gaudio is capable of competing with anybody. His arsenal is packed with a wide array of weapons, all of which are proficient enough to take down any opponent.
From the crisp and elegant single-handed backhand to one of the best drop shots the game has ever seen.
The problem for Gaudio is staying mentally strong. As a result, he is known for relinquishing two-set leads. In a way he’s an older version of Richard Gasquet, yet it’s rather ironic that his greatest achievement came when he was the beneficiary of someone forfeiting a two-set lead.
Gaudio played at Roland Garros every year, bar last year, since his triumph. In 2005 and 2006 he made decent progress before being knocked-out in the fourth round. 2007 wasn’t such a pleasant experience because he succumbed to Lleyton Hewitt in the second round.
The 2009 French Open will see his return to Paris after a one-year hiatus. It appears he was desperate to play the clay court showpiece despite being ranked a lowly world No. 259.
The organisers of the tournament fulfilled his wish when they gave him a wild card into the main draw.
Gaudio’s forthcoming attempt to recapture the trophy he once lifted has the feel of the Argentine taking one last shot.
He’s now 30-years old and more than aware that his time on court can’t last forever. Gaudio has entered nine tournaments at various levels of the tour this year. Only one of those wasn’t on clay.
It’s my belief that he has been trying to hone his clay court game and get a bit of confidence ahead of one of his final moments in the spotlight.
The draw has been rather kind to the former champion. A first-round match against Radek Stepanek and potential third round encounter with Marin Cilic isn’t easy, but there are definitely more perilous draws out there.
If he plays the kind of tennis he, and the rest of the world, knows he’s capable of producing he can cause a couple of shocks.
However, it matters not how far Gaudio goes at this year’s French Open, just having him around should be enough for tennis fans.
Much like Andy Roddick, he is one of the great characters in the game of tennis. Gaudio will often make fun of himself in interviews and pinpoint his on court frailties.
One such example came during his last appearance at Roland Garros. When asked about losing to Lleyton Hewitt after being two sets up, he replied, “I’m used to it.”
He’s modest. He’s funny. He’s an incredible talent. He will, no doubt, still be able to say upon the conclusion of the tournament that he was the last person to win the French Open before Rafael Nadal.