Messy Teenager versus Responsible Adult

September 2, 2013


I had a ticket for the night session on Labor Day. My inclination is always to avoid Ashe, though that’s trickier with a night session ticket, especially during the second week, as the day session can wind down not long after sunset. Fortunately for me if not for the holders of day tickets, Monday’s program was substantially delayed by rain. When I got through security – which didn’t start moving till about 6:10, later than usual for the night session – I was able to catch the start of the day session match between Richard Gasquet and Milos Raonic on Court 17.


I returned to the area of Court 17 I had discovered and liked on Sunday. To get there, you must walk under the stands to the side that is furthest from Ashe, and then you have a pretty good chance at a box seat near the baseline or service line. The seat has a decent back and there is more legroom than in the bigger stadiums. You’re also on the side of the court opposite the umpire’s chair, so you have an unobstructed view. (See photo for the view of Ashe from the far side of Court 17; for a full complement of photos, including some not linked below, click here.)


Another virtue of being on Court 17 was missing Roger Federer’s loss on Armstrong to Tommy Robredo. On Federer’s sad decline, I am akin to the sportswriter Bill Simmons on Godfather III: don’t watch it, and make believe it never happened.


Gasquet came into this fourth-round match with two negatives: he had lost his only meeting with Raonic, last year in Cincinnati, and he had a record of 1-15 in the fourth round of major tournaments. (Click here for the grim details.) He also came in with some of the distinctive habits I had noticed before, and one I had not. Gasquet daintily bounces the ball before serving with an open palm. When he wins a point on serve, he makes sure to retrieve the lucky ball for use on the next point. In another quirk, which was new to me, he often tapped his racquet three times around the junction of the sideline and baseline when he prepared to receive serve. This one happened irregularly, however, and I was unable to break the code of when the tapping would take place. Of course, the most important aspect of Gasquet’s game is not a quirk, but a beautiful one-handed backhand that he uses to great effect both on the attack and the defensive. (See photos here and here.)


As for Raonic’s odd habits, we can list knocking the stuffing out of the ball with serves that exceed 140 mph (see photo) – and, well, that’s it. In fact, Raonic was so orderly that he kept the area near his chair tidy throughout what would prove to be quite a long and well-played match, while Gasquet was constantly dropping detritus near his chair, leading a wag to compare his domain to a teenager’s bedroom. (See photo of the two seating areas, Gasquet’s on the left and Raonic’s on the right.)


The match began in unlikely fashion, with four breaks of serve in the opening set. The last came when Raonic served for the set at 5-4 and, from deuce, double-faulted twice. Gasquet was hardly out of the woods, needing to save three breaks points at 5-5. In the tiebreak, Raonic established leads of 4-0 and 5-1 and held on to prevail, 7-4.


In the second set, Gasquet saved two break points in his first service game, and then the players chugged into another tiebreak. The key point came with Raonic serving at 4-4, when he missed a forehand passing shot. Gasquet cashed in his two service points to close out the set, 7-4.


The third set was a rout. Raonic broke Gasquet’s serve twice, while dropping only one of 17 points on his own serve. Gasquet’s prospects weakened further in the fourth set, when he went down a break in the fifth game. He immediately broke back, however, and the players stayed on serve thereafter, though Gasquet experienced a 15-40 scare in the eleventh game. With Raonic serving at 5-5 in the tiebreak, Gasquet executed a chip-and-charge – both players came to net effectively and judiciously throughout the match – followed by a lunging forehand volley winner to set up set point on his serve. Raonic saved the set point when Gasquet missed a forehand pass. Raonic reached match point, at 8-7, with a drop volley. Gasquet served the critical point and stayed alive when Raonic’s backhand pass landed just long. After a change of ends at 9-9, Raonic double-faulted, and Gasquet cashed in on his serve when Raonic dumped a forehand into the net.


The final set took 73 minutes and was as hard-fought as its length implies. In the opening game, Raonic saved two break points. Gasquet needed to save three when his turn came. Gasquet broke in the third game and was broken right back in the fourth. Raonic then saved four break points to go ahead, 3-2. On his next turn to serve, Raonic saved three break points and took a 4-3 lead. Gasquet faced his own break point crisis before holding for 4-4. The dam suddenly burst when Raonic served at 5-5. Gasquet snaffled up eight of the next nine points, breaking at love and holding at 15 to capture the match and a trip to the quarterfinals. (See photo of Gasquet raising his arms in triumph and another of the players shaking hands.)


The final tally for Gasquet was 6-7(4) 7-6(4) 2-6 7-6(9) 7-5. He had won only 195 points to Raonic’s 207, and dropped serve six times to Raonic’s five. Still, who breaks Raonic an average of once per set? More important, Gasquet withstood Raonic’s power long enough to stay in the match and give himself a chance when the younger man flagged in the fifth set. Only three of Raonic’s 39 aces came in the decisive set, and he averaged 124 and 94 mph on first and second serves, as opposed to 128 and 98 for the match.


Next up for Gasquet is a rematch of his fourth-round loss of last year, to David Ferrer, who’s as different from Raonic as sour cream from sauerkraut. The guess here is that Ferrer, devoid of firepower though he may be, will prove too steady for the Frenchman. More important, maybe a spectator at the match will figure out when Gasquet does his racquet-tapping before receiving serve.