In an unexpectedly one-sided match, the unseeded Richard Gasquet took out the perpetually steady No. 6 Nikolai Davydenko yesterday in straight sets. Gasquet, the former World Junior champion, is finally making good on his erstwhile hype with a complete game and gorgeous, unbeatable backhand. And though it didn’t take place under the flashy lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium with an even flashier personality like Andy Roddick, Gasquet ousted the highest men’s seed at the Open so far, thus orchestrating a significant upset and instilling hope for some compelling future match-ups.
Davydenko is known for his ability to rob time from his opponents by taking the ball early and hitting it more powerfully than you’d believe capable of his slender five-foot-ten frame. But Gasquet beat him at his own game, and then some, with a versatile one-handed backhand that had deadly direction and range. As a result, Davydenko was never able to develop a rhythm. Running out of ideas in the third set, Davydenko repeatedly hit drop shots and came to the net, but without the proper touch, each attempt failed miserably and propelled him further toward service breaks and the impending straight-set defeat.
The result itself isn’t shocking. Gasquet is widely considered to be one of the most innately talented players to never fully harness his ability while Davydenko is still regaining momentum after an eleven-week injury timeout this spring. What’s surprising is that the match wasn’t remotely close. Gasquet easily rolled once he got the first break in the first set, and in all it lasted just an hour and 53 minutes, which is Federer-like in its efficiency.
Also akin to Federer was Gasquet’s style. In an age of somewhat monotonous power tennis that entails wailing on the ball as much as possible, Gasquet effortlessly transitioned from the baseline to the net with deft touch and form. It can be foolhardy to hope for much from Gasquet (since his invigorating run to the semifinals at Wimbledon in 2007, his game has been spotty and often lackluster), but you can’t help but see stars after his stylish dismantling of a consistently top-ten player like Davydenko.
Considering his track record, Gasquet is unlikely to become a serious contender for a Slam anytime soon, but he’s always a dangerous competitor with bouts of possessed brilliance that on any given day can give the greatest players a serious scare. Yesterday’s match proves that he’s in such a zone, and if he continues to play like this, he’ll likely win his next round against Kevin Anderson and set himself up for a round of sixteen bout with either the hyper-athletic Gael Monfils or the instrument of Roddick’s demise, Janko Tipsarevic. If so, mark your calendars now, because it could be a wildly entertaining match — depending on which Gasquet shows up.