French Open 2019: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet lose, but not before reminding us of their contributions to Roland Garros
With Tsonga and Gasquet in particular, we also know that they’d do just about anything to live up to the expectations of a demanding French crowd.
At Roland Garros, it is Tsonga’s high-wire act rather than Gasquet’s orchestra of quiet notes that has seen more success
Gasquet hasn’t been a part of as many electrifying battles in Paris as Tsonga, but he’s made up for that with the sheer beauty of his game
Tsonga, Gasquet, Paire, Monfils – it has been a remarkable generation of French players who have frequently threatened to take the sport by storm
Flair, finesse, fabulousness – there are quite a few things common to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet, apart from the fact that they are both French. The two have spent more than a decade on the tour showing off their wizardry to awed spectators, and on Wednesday at Roland Garros, they took the court at roughly the same time for their respective second round matches.
Unfortunately for the noisy and expectant French crowd, Tsonga and Gasquet lost within a few minutes of each other. First Gasquet bowed out to Juan Ignacio Londero 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, and soon after that Tsonga went down against Kei Nishikori 6-4, 4-6, 4-6, 4-6. And just like that, Parisian hopes of seeing a home-grown champion at Roland Garros took a significant hit.
Their defeats were characteristic of players in their age group, and unfolded along similar lines. Both Tsonga and Gasquet tried to outfox Nishikori and Londero respectively with a mix of drop shots, deft touches and diabolical volleys, and for a while, they found success with those tactics too. But they couldn’t keep it up, and ultimately were run off the court by their younger and fitter opponents.
As the two men departed the scene, you couldn’t help but notice the difference in the crowd atmosphere at their matches. Tsonga, with his fiery pyrotechnics and emotionally charged reactions, constantly had Court Philippe Chatrier creating a din that wouldn’t be out of place at a rock concert. But Gasquet, with his quiet grace and understated celebrations, elicited responses from the crowd that resembled the oohs and aahs you hear at a musical symphony.
It didn’t matter that they both eventually lost. The good points that they did put together were spectacular enough to keep everyone in the arena fully engaged.
That’s pretty much how it has always been with Tsonga and Gasquet. Tsonga is the passionate, chest-thumping warrior while Gasquet is the artistic, cerebral maestro; win or lose they always produce a show that’s worth the price of admission. And as the two men get close to the end of their careers – the 34-year-old Tsonga and the 32-year-old Gasquet have both been afflicted by serious injuries over the past year – you wonder how many more times we’ll get to be entertained by their uniquely aesthetic brand of tennis.
At Roland Garros, it is Tsonga’s high-wire act rather than Gasquet’s orchestra of quiet notes that has seen more success. Tsonga’s game, replete with big serving and daredevil volleys, is more suited to quick courts than red dirt, but he hasn’t let that stop him. He has made quite a few memorable deep runs in Paris – he reached the quarterfinal in 2012 (where he famously had match points against Novak Djokovic), the semi-final in 2013 (defeating Roger Federer along the way) and the semi-final again in 2015.
Tsonga knows better than anyone how to feed off the energy of a deeply invested audience; he can surf the wave of crowd support to create an atmosphere that practically injects him with momentum. He has also employed his variations to good effect at Roland Garros. You never quite know what’s coming from Tsonga, and that kind of unpredictability can sometimes make up for lack of consistency on clay.
Gasquet hasn’t been a part of as many electrifying battles in Paris as Tsonga, but he’s made up for that with the sheer beauty of his game. I’ve had the good fortune of seeing a Gasquet match live from the stands in Paris, and I can attest that his backhand never fails to inspire gasps of awe from the audience. It’s a shot that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen – the majestic take-back, the lightning-quick racquet-head speed and the elegant follow-through make for an eye-popping combination. The artistically-leaning Paris crowd laps it up with glee every single time.
Gasquet once played a five-set thriller against Stan Wawrinka at the French Open, back in the year 2013. Wawrinka won that match 8-6 in the fifth, but the exhibition of imperious one-handed backhands the match provided us looked almost too good to be true. If it looked that spectacular to us watching on TV, I can only imagine how chuffed the crowd in Paris must have been at witnessing it live.
Gasquet has only ever reached one quarter-final at Roland Garros, but his backhand and throwback style of play have ensured that he is a huge fan favorite. It’s hard to dislike him anyway, because you can see he always gives his best on the court. Even though Gasquet has always found things difficult in Paris – due to the lack of firepower in his game combined with the crippling expectations of an entire country right from his teenage years – he has never stopped fighting and trying to make a mark.
Both Tsonga and Gasquet have reliably shown up with their best efforts at Roland Garros for the better part of the last decade, and have regularly given their home fans plenty to cherish and cheer. Unlike some of their other gifted compatriots – Gael Monfils and Benoit Paire immediately come to mind – Tsonga and Gasquet have never tanked matches or made anyone question their desire. With or without results, these two players have made it a point to give the crowd their money’s worth every single time. And that’s something all young French players can learn from.
It is unclear how many more times Tsonga and Gasquet will return to Roland Garros, but it seems fairly obvious that their best chance of winning the title is in the past. Neither of them is getting any younger; it would be a miracle if they challenge for a Slam anywhere again, let alone on their least favorite surface.
They would, however, be happy to know that the legacy they helped create for their countrymen in Paris – the legacy of producing dramatic battles filled with energy and flair and crafty shot-making – is alive and well. A few hours after Tsonga and Gasquet lost, Benoit Paire and Pierre-Hugues Herbert combined to create a special dance of their own on Court Suzanne-Lenglen. Paire ended up winning the match 11-9 in the fifth after 4 hours and 33 minutes, in the process convincing everyone that a classic all-French battle at Roland Garros is still among the best entertainment that tennis can offer.
Tsonga, Gasquet, Paire, Monfils – it has been a remarkable generation of French players who have frequently threatened to take the sport by storm. That they never quite succeeded is almost immaterial at this point, because we know that the show-stopping skills they brought to the table were memorable in their own right.
With Tsonga and Gasquet in particular, we also know that they’d do just about anything to live up to the expectations of a demanding French crowd. In hindsight, that might be their biggest contribution to Roland Garros – even bigger than that thunderous Tsonga serve, or that glorious Gasquet backhand.
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