Richard Gasquet: "I'm on schedule ahead of Roland-Garros"
Ten days before Roland-Garros begins, Richard Gasquet is already in full flow at the Porte d'Auteuil, fine-tuning his game and building up his confidence in practice after several injury-plagued weeks. We caught up with him.
On a largely overcast Thursday afternoon, with the occasional ray of sunshine peeking through the gaps in the clouds, the thwack of a well-struck tennis ball rings out on Court No.3 at Roland-Garros. Richard Gasquet is going through his paces with gusto under the watchful eye of Thierry Champion. And not for the first time this week: since Tuesday, the Béziers-born ace has been earnestly preparing for his home Grand Slam, racquet in hand, on the Parisian clay that he knows so well. The twist: this is the first opportunity that Champion has had to work with his charge on court since "Richie" was forced to retire at Estoril and subsequently pull out of Madrid and Rome. The culprit? A niggly back problem, itself a direct consequence of the emergency appendix surgery he underwent on the eve of Indian Wells.
"It had been a long time since I'd woken up feeling like this, free of any pain or soreness"
The good news is that, with 10 days before Roland-Garros gets underway, the back doesn't seem to be bothering him. Nor do his formerly problematic abdominals. He is painting the lines off both wings, his passing shots are unerring and his serve is firing. With everything clicking, his perky spirits are in tune with the whip on his patented topspin-heavy backhand, which is looking as gorgeous as ever. On Wednesday and Thursday, Gasquet even did double duty, packing two practice sessions into a day. "I'm improving steadily," he told us as he made his exit from Court No.3. "I was a bit apprehensive, which is only natural, but I think my sciatica is gradually fading. It had been a long time since I'd woken up feeling like this, free of any pain or soreness – not since the only night when I was able to sleep in Indian Wells, Now I've got to keep going."
After returning from Estoril, Gasquet saw both a doctor and an osteopath and focused his attention on rehabilitation and prevention in equal measure. "I did a fair amount of fitness work," he explained, "and I played a lot too, including some sets. Right now, I'm on schedule and I'm happy with how things are shaping up because the aftermath of the appendicitis was tough and I had a lot of concerns. I feel it's going better and better. One thing is for sure: it's five sets here, so getting time on the practice court under my belt is going to be important." He added, "We'll see what happens: I've got the experience and I think I can have a good tournament."
Thierry Champion: "The sound of his strokes is enough to tell me that he's suddenly enjoying hitting through the ball "
This optimism is shared by Thierry Champion, albeit tempered by understandable caution regarding two unknown quantities: the draw, first and foremost, and then how a battle-scarred body withstands the rigours of five-set marathons on the most punishing surface on tour. "I joined up with him this afternoon, but when I spoke to him on the phone yesterday and the day before, I didn't need to call the doctors to know that things were going better, because his voice sounded better too," Gasquet's co-coach observed. "I noted a desire to communicate and say what needs saying. When I hear his voice now, I don't even need to look at him. The sound of his strokes is enough to tell me that he's suddenly enjoying hitting through the ball and is completely unleashing on his shots physically."
By Sunday, when he will set off for Lyon and hand over the baton to Sergi Bruguera, Champion should be even more reassured following two more days of working with his compatriot. In any case, he was adamant that, "I wasn't worried in the slightest. Richard is getting back into his groove and my impression is that he's actually in really good shape. 'Roland' is obviously very demanding and there's no telling beforehand how he's going to react, but he's still got ten days to prepare. He's missed four Masters 1000 events on the bounce; he'd trained extremely hard in the winter, had had a good start to the season and had high hopes for the big tournaments before Roland-Garros. He wasn't able to contest them, but that has only heightened his hunger. And I think that hunger is going to shine through."