Gasquet and His Backhand

Words by Richard Evans, Friday 02. June 2017

You talk to Richard Gasquet about his tennis and you talk about his backhand. It’s a given. The veteran French player, now embarking on his 14th French Open, possesses one of the most effective and pleasing single handed backhands tennis has seen in the Open era. When HEADLINE sat down to talk to Gasquet, he knew where to direct his first question.

“It’s my shot, I’m very proud of it,” said the quietly spoken Gasquet in accented but fluent English. “My father taught me the one handed backhand when I was a child. There was never any thought of using two hands. He started coaching me when I was four and remained my coach until I was 15.”

Gasquet was born and grew up near Beziers where his father ran a tennis camp. He was spotted as a talent at a very young age by the former French No 1 Pierre Barthes who was running the largest tennis camp in Europe at nearby Cap d’Agde at the time. Impressed by what Barthes saw in the nine-year-old, Jean Couvercelle, publisher of France’s Tennis Magazine, put him on the cover. Couvercelle had gone out on a limb by throwing a spotlight on such a young player, but by 2002 Gasquet had proved him right by becoming the No 1 junior in the world.

He didn’t take long to make his mark on the ATP tour, either. At the age of 15 years and 10 months I remember watching him make his pro debut at Monte Carlo, beating the experienced Franco Squillari in the first round, using his muscular legs to get himself in position to strike that sweeping backhand.

“I worked every day on my backhand,” said Gasquet. “Physical conditioning is very important because you have to move well on clay and have the right technique.”

A few weeks after making such a startling entrance in Monte Carlo, Gasquet became one of the youngest boys ever to compete at Roland Garros. He did not disgrace himself, either, taking a set off the future champion Albert Costa.

Although he grew up on clay, Gasquet used Pete Sampras as a role model. “He was not my idol but, yes, I did use Sampras as a model for my game,” said the Frenchman who will turn 31 in June.

Studying the seven-time Wimbledon champion seemed to pay off because two of Gasquet’s 14 ATP titles have come on grass. Both were at Nottingham, in 2005 & 2006, and twice he has reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon – in 2007 when he reached his career high ranking of No 7 and again in 2015.

On all surfaces, Gasquet has been able to win critical points and change the direction of matches with that backhand. Asked who he thinks enjoy similar advantage from hitting the shot single handed, Gasquet immediately cites Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov.

However, beautiful though it may be, the backhand is not the only shot in the game and HEADLINE asked Richard to break down the game’s strokes and name the best practitioners for each.

Serve: “There are many different kinds of serve but Ivo Karlovic has to have the biggest. Being tall (Karlovic is 2.11m) is the most important factor.”

Forehand: “Federer. Incredible. Best shot in the history of the game.”

Volley: “Stefan Edberg – although Federer volleys beautifully, too.”

Smash: “Rafa Nadal – he never misses. But again, Roger is pretty good!”

Drop shot: “Benoit Paire is very good, very talented with the shot.”

Gasquet always looks forward to playing in Paris. “Playing at home can put pressure on your shoulders but, really, there are only positives about playing in front of your family and friends. It is always special.”

Gasquet enjoyed his best ever run at the French Open last year, beating Kei Nishikori on his way to the quarter finals and he will be hoping he can do even better this time. “But I have to be realistic,” he warns. “I have been injured for two months and, over five sets at Roland Garros, you really need to be in top shape. I don’t know what I can expect of myself.”

The thousands of fans of this charming, popular stalwart of French tennis over the past two decades will be hoping Richard Gasquet quickly gets back into the rhythm of hitting that beautiful backhand – and that it will take him far.

Words by Richard Evans, Friday 02. June 2017