There is a host of local favorites competing in the main draw of this year’s French Open. 15th seed entertainer and former semifinalist Gael Monfils, former World #5 Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, and Benoit Paire lead the pack. Having won only one of the six matches he has played this year, the experienced Tsonga is hoping to find form at Roland Garros. Veterans Giles Simon and Richard Gasquet are also making an appearance. The consistent Gasquet was a quarterfinalist in 2016 and is fresh from a satisfying run at the ATP 250 in Lyon, where he lost to Karen Khachanov in the quarterfinals. However, he has a 5-7 win-loss record this year.
Hugo Gaston at the 2020 French Open
With the old French guard losing sheen, the man to watch over the coming fortnight may well be the young left-hander Hugo Gaston, who was the last Frenchman left standing at Roland Garros last year. Gaston emerged as the local hero when he stretched Dominic Thiem to five sets on the back of a bizarre approach before falling to the two-time finalist in their Round of 16 match. The drop-shot-obsessed Gaston had masterfully scripted an upset over former champion Wawrinka the round prior.
It almost seemed like Wawrinka, one of the sport’s most physical players, wasn’t prepared for the surprise onslaught of drop shots. The French wild card does have an armor of skillful shots; what stands out, however, is a pair of soft hands that can execute one effective drop shot after another. For perspective, the great Rafael Nadal relied heavily on the forehand drop shot until late 2005, before he settled on a predominantly defensive baseline game. While Nadal has no equals, Gaston is yet to break into the Top 100 on the tour.
He hasn’t played enough Grand Slam matches to draw statistics from yet. While he seems to be inclined towards the disruptive drop shot, Gaston should be looking to play longer rallies. With a first serve percentage on the wrong side of 60, the 5’8″ Frenchman’s best plan could comprise of a higher first serve percentage and sustained rallies. Top 10 players are known to be vulnerable to unconventional opposition. Hugo Gaston, much of a crowd player, might well succeed in pulling together a first week upset for the second year in a row.
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