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Did Fernando Gonzalez Really Make Just 3 Unforced Errors in the 2007 Australian Open Semifinal?

Fernando Gonzalez at the 2007 Australian Open

With the tennis season suspended for the foreseeable future, we here at LWOT are looking back at some of the greatest performances and matches in recent tennis history. Amongst them was Fernando Gonzalez masterful showing in the 2007 Australian Open semifinal.

It is rightly considered one of the best performances by a player who never won a Grand Slam or a Masters 1000 event. Gonzalez was unquestionably one of the most exciting players of the previous generation, basing his style on all-out attack and huge strokes off both wings. Fantastic to watch when he was on, the Chilean played the best tennis of his life at the 2007 Australian Open.

After battling through the early rounds, he thrashed Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals to advance to his first Grand Slam semifinal, where he faced Tommy Haas. It proved to be another great day for the Chilean, who claimed a dominant 6-1 6-3 6-1 win. A quick glance at the stats sheet will explain why Haas was not able to get close, with Gonzalez finishing the contest having hit 42 winners and just three unforced errors. But is that low error count too good to be true? With Gonzalez’s hyper-aggressive style he had to make a couple more errors, right? Let’s go back to that match and check the work of the Australian Open statistician.

Note: Only the points that are not evident beyond a reasonable doubt are mentioned. Very obvious forced errors like 1st serves Gonzalez barely got a racket on won’t be discussed.

2-0, 40-0 Gonzalez – Fernando loses his first point of the match hitting a forehand long. While he didn’t have to go for such a big counter, this one can be qualified as a forced error as he was out of position earlier and got pushed wide by a fast Haas forehand.

2-0, 40-40 – Haas hits a kick second serve to the body which Gonzalez can’t control. Are all second serve missed returns unforced errors? This serve was good enough for me to justify cataloging it as a forced one.

2-1, 40-30 Gonzalez – Fernando makes a serve-and-volley attempt but can’t do much against Haas’ blocked backhand return. Forced.

5-1, 15-15 – Haas approaches the net to Gonzalez’s forehand who tries to slam it down the middle but sends it long. Forced.

5-1, 30-30 – A similar miss but this time Gonzalez has to hit the pass on the run and the error is even more justified.

After the first set, the official stat sheet said 17 winners to 0 unforced errors. We’ll agree with that and see how the Australian Open statistician did in the next two.

6-1, 0-0 – Here we have it! The first clear error of the match. Gonzalez tries to blast a forehand down the line that lands just wide.

6-1, 1-0, 15-0 Gonzalez – Another error on the forehand pass on the run, cataloged as a forced one and rightfully so.

6-1, 3-0, 15-15 – Similar scenario as Haas approaches the forehand again and Gonzalez nets a forehand passing attempt. Forced.

6-1, 3-1, 15-0 Gonzalez – The confidence level is clearly through the roof as the Chilean goes for a ridiculous backhand up-the-line that was to wrongfoot Haas. The risk doesn’t pay off though as he shanks it. Unforced error number two.

6-1, 3-1, 15-15 – A pretty bad miss for a match with (supposedly) just three unforced errors. Gonzalez works out the point nicely and sets up an easy smash that he sends about a metre long. Unforced error number three and the second in a row.

6-1, 3-1, 40-30 Gonzalez – The statistician must have taken a nap here as this game alone has three mishaps from the Chilean. It was a good idea to play a dropshot here but the execution was all over the place. Unforced error number four.

6-1, 5-2, 15-0 Haas – This one can probably go both ways. I can understand the decision not to log it as an unforced error but I’d certainly classify it as one. Gonzalez is slightly out of position but he has enough time to set up the down-the-line backhand which he misses by a mile. Unforced error number five.

6-1, 5-2, 30-0 Haas – I don’t think there’s any justification for this missed second serve return by Gonzalez. He tries to chip it in, potentially quite aggressively based on the movement but the ball doesn’t clear the net. Unforced error number six.

The stat sheet says 12-3 this time around. While the last two are definitely arguable, especially the down-the-line backhand, I believe all six should have been logged in as unforced errors. Myth busted but hey, with 29 winners that’s still a pretty fair ratio.

The third set is yet again just a ridiculous display of Gonzalez’s shotmaking abilities. The only balls the Chilean doesn’t get over the net are a couple of 1st serve returns and a tweener. Nothing which can even be discussed in the unforced error matter. By my count, it’s 42 winners to 6 unforced errors, including an otherworldly 30-0 ratio if you only take the first and the third set into consideration.

If you’ve never seen this match, I couldn’t recommend it more. It’s been eight years since Fernando Gonzalez called it a career and it’s worth reminding yourself quite what a force he could be on the tennis court. The first and third set of this Australian Open semifinal are surely the brightest moment his career ever had.

Gonzalez showed no signs of slowing down in the first set of the final against Roger Federer, making his way to two set points in the opener. But it wasn’t meant to be as the then world #1 came back to win that one in the tiebreak and regain control over the match. One can only wonder what would have happened if the Chilean was to take the lead there.

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