Richard Gasquet: Untapped Talent
With the holiday season upon us and the end of another year a mere eight days away, I once again find myself a little nostalgic.
I'm not quite sure if it's that whole business of making a new year's resolution or the fact that my introspection has left me with thoughts of what I want, need, could have, and don't need at all.
Whatever the case, I'm pretty certain that all of us have these thoughts from time-to-time. I mean, are we really ever satisfied?
Along my path to nostalgia this week, I found myself reliving fond memories of my '08 trip to the Miami Masters 1000 event—again, cold winters in Toronto equal warm thoughts of a beach down south.
I remember leaving the stadium court as Rafael Nadal had just finished waxing Tomas Berdych to make his second final in Florida—Nadal at the time had struggled with Berdych's game, splitting his first six meetings with the powerful Czech.
As I grabbed my pen and paper and walked around a quiet but satisfied Crandon Park (90 degree temperatures and palm trees don't hurt the ability to be satisfied), I had no intention of seeing anymore tennis.
However, as I walked closer to the set of generously laid out practice courts, my keen tennis ears couldn't help but over hear a series of well struck strokes. It was apparent from the sound of the ball that the crispness of the strokes weren't coming from two concession workers taking a lunch break—don't think for a minute that I haven't seen my fair share of lemonade stand attendants get out there and whack a few towards the tail end of an event.
The first sight I remember seeing as I drew closer to court No. 10 was a white baseball cap on backwards. I was lost for a split second trying to identity the player in question. More importantly why would anyone except the four semifinalists be sticking around the event?
Peering over to the other side of the net, it was easy to recognize the other player—it was talented but under-the-radar Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu. In fact, as I scanned over the court more Frenchmen began to pop up—Guy Forget being the second, to be followed by Francis. Yes Francis Gasquet.
With a slew of French faithful taking over the purplish-blue hard-court, the identity of the unknown player finally became easy to construct: It was (at the time) world No. 9 Richard Gasquet.
At first, it was odd to see Gasquet and Mathieu grind out a practice session on the asphalt, considering they had both lost early in the event, and the clay-court season was soon to begin.
Again, the Florida sun was merciless that afternoon, so it took me some time to connect the dots.
The premise of the late afternoon hit by Forget was to fine tune his French squad for an upcoming Davis Cup tie against the US in North Carolina.
Gasquet was far and away the best hope the French had at time—with good reason mind you. Gasquet was simply the epitome of tennis talent.
Watching the practice session from what seemed like a stone throw away, I simply stood in awe of what was taking place.
I've been fortunate to see lifetimes worth of tennis in my time; I've even seen Gasquet play a fist-full of Tour and Grand Slam level matches live.
But on the sun-soaked afternoon in the Keys of Florida, I was treated to something new, a heightened degree of talent if you will.
The breakdown of the practice session wasn't elaborate. The two players rallied cross-court with the intention of gaining timing and depth on their shots.
However, it was Gasquet who outright stole the show on practice court No. 10.
Half-volleying seemingly every shot, Gasquet's eclectic backhand was a slight to see. Again, I've seen pretty much every player practice and play matches in the past 15 years, and no one hits a backhand like Gasquet.
For good measure, the 22-year-old Beziers native decided to work on his unorthodox but fluid inside-out forehand—just in case his backhand was just a touch off during competition.
As I continued to marvel at Gasquet's ball-striking, a sensible and echoing thought came to my mind: Was Gasquet satisfied?
Here was a guy who had won his first pro match at the age of 15—anyone remember Franco Squillari?
And taking nothing away from the "Real Deal," here was a player who had been coined "Baby Federer" for his resemblance to game's greatest champion.
But was that really enough for Gasquet. Did he even understand what he'd been given, and more importantly what was expected?
As a pigeon-toed Forget walked around the court picking up balls and giving a light smirk to Gasquet's father, I sensed a level of disappointed on the face of the team captain.
It was as if Forget wished he could go over to Gasquet and shake him upside down, hoping that his senses would realize his tremendous talent.
With the practice session coming to a close, all seemed well for the French squad; both Gasquet and Mathieu had broken a sweat, and Forget had some sense or relief heading into next week's Davis Cup tie.
Alas, the magic that was cast on court No. 10 in Miami would not carry over to North Carolina. Inexplicably, Gasquet ducked his match against Andy Roddick, citing a blister as the cause of his withdrawal.
A valiant but insuccinct effort by Michael Llodra would not suffice against Roddick, leaving the French team down early to the Americans.
What was perhaps the pinnacle of disappoint during the weekend's tie was Gasquet's too-little, too-late attempt against James Blake in the meaningless fifth rubber (the Americans had closed out the French team on Saturday with a doubles victory).
Gasquet's lame withdrawal in North Carolina pretty much summed up his career: Take for granted what you have and settle for the mediocre consequences.
As I left the tennis center at Key Biscayne, witnessing, or further solidifying my perception of Gasquet's game, I had a feeling that the Frenchman's career (remember he was only 22-years-old at the time) would never see the potential that is deserves.
Inevitably, Gasquet didn't care much for what he was given; his gifts were granted but were not condoned.
I guess, it all comes down to that notion of being satisfied. Very few have the talents of Gasquet, and by the same token very few have the untapped talent that the Frenchman possesses.
Let's hope that the future looks bright for the gifted Gasquet. He sure looked great on that Friday in Miami.
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