Richard Gasquet was praised highly from the very beginning. His talent was so obvious that he was pictured on the front cover of French Tennis Magazine at the age of nine, unveiled as the next great hope of French tennis. Initially, he wore the burden of those expectations lightly, enjoying a phenomenal juniors career, in which he held the world #1 ranking and compiled a 44-7 record in singles.
But Gasquet never proved able to replicate those achievements in the professional game. Of course, the Frenchman has enjoyed a fine career, with 15 titles to his name and three appearances in a Grand Slam semifinal, as well as playing a crucial role in France’s Davis Cup win in 2017. But for a man of whom so much was expected, it is hard not to feel as he approaches the end of his career that he rather underachieved.
One reason for this may well be his tactical approach. Gasquet’s forehand may be somewhat lacking in punch, but his one-handed backhand is not just one of the most aesthetically pleasing shots in the men’s game, it is also one of the most effective. Gasquet is also a fine mover, allowing him to play with patience, searching for an opening to take control of the rally, rather than going for the risky early winner. It is a style of play that has earned him over 400 wins at tour-level.
But it has also arguably held him back, particularly in the biggest matches of his career. Gasquet’s preference to rally from behind the baseline too often allows his opponents to dictate terms to him. And as good as Gasquet is, offering up court position to the best in the world on a regular basis is only going to invite danger. It also has not helped Gasquet’s cause that his rivals are some of the greatest players the game has ever seen.
Not only has Gasquet had to compete against the fearsome trio of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, but the likes of Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic. Against these players, Gasquet has struggled badly. He has beaten Murray in four of their 12 meetings, but has lost all five of their Grand Slam meetings, including a five-set classic at the All England Club in 2008. And his record against the Big Three of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer is even worse.
The Swiss has beaten him in 18 of their 20 meetings, whilst Djokovic has beaten him 13 times and lost just once and Nadal has beaten him 16 times without reply. In Gasquet’s defence, few players can boast a respectable head-to-head record against these all-time greats. But to become one of the best in the world, a player must be able to beat the best in the world and Gasquet has clearly failed to do that with any sort of regularity, particularly on the biggest stages.
And that is perhaps down to his reluctance to really change up his style of play. Gasquet at his very best can be almost unplayable and there are certainly few players better to watch in full flow. But great champions have more than one string to their bow. When it is not working for them, they move to a Plan B, digging out tough wins by winning points in different ways. That sort of problem solving is something that Gasquet has always struggled with.
As his career has progressed, a lack of belief has also become apparent. Nadal, Federer and Djokovic have an arrogance to their tennis, an aura of invincibility that has carried them through tough moments to great victories. The same cannot be said of Gasquet. On the contrary, his belief in his game has too often faltered when he is under pressure. That waning belief has been further dented by the succession of injuries that have disrupted the latter stages of his career.
Gasquet has struggled to stay fit throughout his career and since 2016, the Frenchman has been battling a chronic back problem, one that has prevented him from travelling at length and therefore stopping him from building up any real momentum. When he can play, at times he is able to capture the old magic and his ranking is still solid at world #50. But there can surely be no doubt that Gasquet’s time as a major force in the men’s game is over.
Still, at 33, Gasquet should be able to look back at his career with real pride. Indeed, most young players making their first strides into the professional game would sign up for Gasquet’s career in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, however, one rather suspects that Gasquet himself would not be amongst them.
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