Expectations don’t come much higher than the ones that were placed on Richard Gasquet when, at age nine, he appeared on the cover of French Tennis Magazine, touted as a future world No.1.
In the 18 years since, Gasquet has scaled many heights in his tennis career, but the Grand Slam trophies that were predicted for him are still sadly missing from the cabinet. Still, the technically complete player with he most superb backhand in the men’s game is always considered a dangerous opponent. Coming off his most consistent season yet, that could prove especially true at this Australian Open.
The top-ranked player among 11 French men in the ATP’s top 100, Gasquet’s third top-10 season (and second consecutive one) was boosted by a career-high 50 match wins, three titles (all on hard court) and a semifinal run at the US Open, which matched the final four appearance he’d achieved at Wimbledon 2007 and highlighted his ability to break through on every surface.
For Gasquet, an appearance in the ATP World Tour Finals for just the second time in his career provided the most glowing measure of his success. “I played in London, top eight again, which I did six years ago. So for sure, it was important for me. I’m very happy with the way I played,” he said.
While targeting the same consistency, Gasquet is hoping that the Grand Slam tournaments provide the most notable high points of 2014. “To try and play in the top 10, to play well again (especially in) the Grand Slams, to be in other semis,” he said of his goals for the new season. “I am sure I am able to do that.”
Certainly the Frenchman has some qualified supporters in his corner, with countryman Sebastian Grosjean and two-time French Open champion Sergei Bruguera sharing coaching duties. Pointing to his more recent pairing with Grosjean, who peaked at world No. 4 in 2002, Gasquet explains the value of advisors with proven credentials.
“It’s very important for me to be with him. He’s one of the best players form the past,” he said. “He has a lot of experience so I can listen to him a lot, because when he is talking I know he’s telling me big things and important things for my tennis.”
A huge fan of Melbourne, Gasquet would dearly love for his next career milestone to occur in his 11th Australian Open appearance. “It’s one of my favourite events, because people are very nice,” he said. “People love sport here, especially tennis … I’m really happy to come back here and of course I will try to do my best to go further than the fourth round.”
The toughest opposition, he knows, could come from his closest friends – in two of his four final 16 finishes at Melbourne Park, Gasquet has exited to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The silver lining in that fact is the dominance of French players in the men’s game, with only Spain boasting more top 100 players.
“I think there is a big tradition of tennis in France, especially with Roland Garros. It’s a popular sport,” Gasquet explained. “The system is very good in France for French players. So I think that’s why there are a lot of tennis players.”
Success invariably breeds success too, especially with those Frenchmen a largely tight-knit group at tournaments throughout the world. “I’ve known them since I was a child. Of course we are big friends,” Gasquet said.
That fellowship might have to be placed aside for the next fortnight or so. Having toughed out some of his biggest wins in 2013, it will almost certainly be a steelier Gasquet who sets about achieving bigger highs in 2014.