LONDON -- If you could give Richard Gasquet any gift to aid him in his upcoming Wimbledon semifinal, it would be the same gift he earned in an 11-9-in-the-fifth win against Stan Wawrinka in the last round.
It's the gift of self-regard
That upset by Gasquet, the lowly No. 21 seed, helped purge the bitter aftertaste of his excruciatingly close fail at the French Open in 2013, when he lost in the fourth round to Wawrinka in another thriller, 8-6 in the fifth. It was one of Gasquet's rare penetrations deep into a major draw. But the loss transformed the narrative into another predictable chapter in the life of the aging French stylist once hailed as "Baby Federer."
We can now make that "Still-Grand-Slam-less Baby Federer." Gasquet, famous for the one-handed backhand that some swoon over, has been a chronic underachiever.
Over the years, Gasquet has been labeled as "soft," a guy who has abundant talent but who has a shortfall of grit and a fatal attraction to choking. Maybe Gasquet, at 29, has wasted too much time and talent for his win against Wawrinka to resonate throughout the global tennis community, but it seemed to mean an awful lot to the person who counts most -- himself.
"There is a lot of things," said Gasquet, who will play world No.1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. "[It is important] because it's Stan, and he won in Paris. You know, I'm French. I know what it means to win that tournament. And it's a quarterfinal [at Wimbledon], the biggest tournament in the world. I fight. I fight a lot. To win that match -- it's very important to me."
Perhaps the most satisfying detail is that after Gasquet caved under the pressure of serving for the match at 5-3 in the fifth, he recovered and went on to win.
Gasquet made just one semifinal at the All England Club before this one -- eight years ago at the tender age of 21. There's been just one shining moment in the interim: a US Open final four appearance in 2013, which ended in a straight-sets loss to Rafael Nadal.
In fairness, Gasquet has struggled with an assortment of ailments over the years, including chicken pox and injuries to his elbow, right shoulder and back. He was also suspended for a period in mid-2009 after testing positive for trace amounts of cocaine ingested (inadvertently, he asserted) during a night out in Miami.
Mostly, though, Gasquet has struggled with the expectations of his countrymen, along with a game loaded with baroque flourishes that seem a little out of sync with today's straightforward power tennis.
Hailed as a prodigy, Gasquet appeared on the cover of France's leading tennis magazine by age 9. He dazzled, and often still does, with his quickness and his flashy winners. But he predictably disappoints with his easily conquered spirit and nerves that scatter like a flock of quail at any sign of danger. He has borne the weight placed on his shoulders as if it were a piano.
But in tennis, every Grand Slam draw is the equivalent of a carefully drawn-up official pardon. Now Gasquet will get chance to earn even greater glory when he meets Djokovic on Friday.
Unlike some men in the draw, Gasquet has the firepower and flair to beat Djokovic. But the Frenchman was beaten badly by the top seed at Roland Garros just weeks ago, winning just six games in their fourth-round meeting. Gasquet is tempering his expectations:
"I want to enjoy it, to play a better match than I did in Paris," he said. "It's important for me to think I can win this match. That's the most important, to go on the court and think you can win. It's something I need to do on my mental part -- to be there to win."
It's a mature, realistic approach. Maybe Baby Fed still has a shot. Maybe he's all grown up.