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Richard Reinvigorated

DEUCE

Gasquet© Getty ImagesFrenchman Richard Gasquet is bidding to break back into the Top 10 of the South African Airways ATP Rankings.

Richard Gasquet comes to Wimbledon, the site of his best Grand Slam performance, with the opportunity to return to the Top 10 for the first time since 2008.

It has been four years since Richard Gasquet reached, to date, his only Grand Slam championship semi-final at the All England Club. He has won seven ATP World Tour titles on clay, grass, hard and indoor surfaces – a rare feat.

For a player of great flair, classical elegance, imagination and natural talent, it is scant reward. But under the guidance of his former coach Eric Deblicker, and latterly Ivan Ljubicic’s long-time mentor, Riccardo Piatti, and a former fellow cap-wearing Frenchman, Sebastien Grosjean, this year, Gasquet is starting to edge closer to the Top 10 and maturing as a player at the age of 25.

“The French way is to play beautiful strokes, with style and to hit the ball early,” Gasquet told DEUCE at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. “I am a product of that philosophy, yet now I am learning to channel my emotions in order to play my best tennis on a regular basis.

“I am learning to channel my emotions in order to play my best tennis”

“I have always played with a lot of feeling, but what I must do is stay relaxed and try to play without hesitation and not to be afraid to hit out on my shots. I am now focusing on staying calm on the court to play my best tennis.”

By standing closer to the baseline and taking the ball earlier again, he is playing with more aggression and his confidence is soaring. “When I am able to take the ball early and hit a flat shot, it is better for me,” he admits. “If I am aggressive and come to the net, I grow in confidence.”

In the space of 12 months, Gasquet has risen from No. 48 to No. 13 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings, just six spots shy of his career-high World No. 7 in July 2007. His results this season have matched his ranking spike. Victories over Andy Roddick, at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, and Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer in Rome, have given substance to the impression that Gasquet knows he can no longer rely on his natural talent if he is to fulfil his career objectives.

Gasquet“I’m really pumped up and in good health,” he admits. “I am finding the right balance between offence and defence, and I realise I must wait for the right ball to attack. Riccardo and I always talk before matches that if I move forward, I can make it difficult for my opponents.”

There has also been a marked improvement in his conditioning and by refining his service motion he has added pop and spin. “My fitness has become one of my greatest strengths and that has helped my rise,” says Gasquet, “but to break the Top 5 not only requires superior conditioning but consistency, particularly at every Grand Slam tournament. Right now, Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Murray are so consistent.

“My goal is to maintain my Top 20 ranking this year, but the goal between No. 6 and No. 20 is small, so there is scope to get into the Top 10. With Gael [Monfils] and Jo[-Wilfried Tsonga] improving their ranking, the healthy competition motivates each of us.”

In 2005, he won his first ATP World Tour title on the grass of Nottingham and famously saved three match points to beat Roger Federer 6-7(1), 6-2, 7-6(8) at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters. Two years later, he finished the season a career-best No. 8 and qualified for the year-end championships.

“He has the game, of course, and now he really wants to stay at the top”

The results only seemed to vindicate French monthly Tennis Magazine putting a nine-year-old Gasquet on its front cover in February 1996. But he has always developed at his own pace. His parents, Francis and Maryse, had never pushed him. In recent years his form had been sporadic, his mental toughness had come under the microscope and younger rivals had risen to the upper echelons of the sport. But that never bothered Gasquet.

Former World No. 4 Grosjean, who maximised his talent to reach semi-finals at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon, is in no doubt that when Gasquet does return to the Top 10 it won’t be fleeting. “He will be back in Top 10, because he can adapt on all courts. He has the game, of course, and now he really wants to stay at the top. He has a good attitude for the high level. He just needs to be more sure of himself. Little by little he is more positive and has a great attitude.”

Arnaud Clement insists, “He has improved a lot. He is more aggressive than the past couple of years, as he knows to get back into the Top 10 he has to do that.” Michael Llodra also recognises the fact that Gasquet will be a “big asset” for France in the future. “Last year he was on the Davis Cup team, but he didn’t play. As the third or fourth best Frenchman it is never easy. But we all know he has the talent to beat anyone and he will be a big asset once again.”

Having drawn a line over the past couple of years, Gasquet is entering the second chapter of his career with renewed vigour, which could spell trouble for his rivals that fear the return of his spellbinding game, his immaculately groomed single-handed backhand.


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