Richard ‘The Virtuoso’ Gasquet has finally made the last two at the 3rd edition of the Ultimate Tennis Showdown in Antwerp, having come so close in the first two exhibition competitions, and will play Alex ‘The Demon’ De Minaur for the UTS3 trophy.
Yeah, I played well, of course. Last time was tough to lose twice in semis but was a good one this time. I played to reach the final. Richard Gasquet
Playing in Group B, Gasquet first downed Feliciano ‘El Torero’ Lopez, 4-0, before surviving a sudden-death thriller against Taylor ‘The Hotshot’ Fritz on Saturday evening.
“Yeah, I played well, of course,” Gasquet said after clinching his final berth. “Last time was tough to lose twice in semis but was a good one this time. I played to reach the final.”
Against Lopez in the opening rubber, Gasquet won all four quarters against the Spaniard, producing another superb performance as he downed El Torero to set himself up perfectly for a shot at the final of UTS3.
The 34-year-old started well and finished strongly, too good for a rusty-looking Lopez as he claimed a 4-0: 15-14, 19-11, 17-10, 16-14 victory over the 39-year-old.
It was his 3rd win out of 3 UTS battles with El Torero, and The Virtuoso pulled the strings from the start, easing the Spaniard around the court and reaping the rewards as the errors flowed from the Spaniard’s racket.
“It’s a great start,” Gasquet said. “I’m doing a great job in UTS, I’m feeling confident.
“You need not to miss, to return well, not to give free points. I did twice semis this summer; of course, I try to reach the final tonight.”
Lopez came off a long flight and looked jaded from the start, not a good sign against a man who has won 7 of their 8 ATP Tour level meetings.
A run of 4 straight points put Gasquet in control of the opening quarter, while Lopez seemed to be struggling with his timing, his strings, everything.
Things got worse for El Torero in Q2 as The Virtuoso moved through the gears, using his next point counts double card perfectly to pull away, leaving Lopez rather dejected.
Lopez didn’t seem to have the legs as Gasquet took an unassailable lead in Q3, and while it looked like the Spaniard might get on the board at last, the Frenchman won 2 points on the Lopez serve and then took 2 more points to complete the whitewash.
The Virtuoso scores sudden-death win over The Hotshot
Finding himself just one win away from advancing, Gasquet continued his run by winning the first two quarters against Fritz, as the American had trouble adjusting to the innovative format on his debut appearance.
“I’m struggling too much while I’m thinking about these cards too much,” Fritz told his coach and good friend Tommy Paul.
“You still got plenty of time,” Paul responded.
“I wanted an ace so bad on those last two so I can get the x3 and I just missed both serves,” Fritz continued.
Paul was right because, slowly but surely, Fritz found his footing as he won the next 2 quarters to send the match into a thrilling sudden death scenario in which The Virtuoso held off the comeback, winning through 3-2: 18-15, 17-14, 12-21, 10-20, [2-1].
Outfoxed by Gasquet in the first two quarters, the 22-year-old American fought back superbly and looked favourite going into sudden death, only for Gasquet to save match point and clinch victory 2-1 to seal his place in the final.
“I played a great match point. The last forehand was crazy, it was a great shot. I’m a bit tired now but I’ll be OK for Sunday.”
Fritz started strongly, up 5-3, but Gasquet is a master of the UTS format and used his next point counts double card perfectly to move in front, 8-7.
At 9-8, Gasquet used the winner x 3 card, and the Frenchman put a smash away for the first one, 12-8, followed by an ace down the T for 15-8.
Fritz banged down a 222kmph serve and got within 4 but the gap was too big as Gasquet used up all 15 seconds between points and then slammed an ace, winning it 18-15.
“I’m used to it, it’s his first time,” Gasquet said. “I know exactly when to use the card and how important it is.
“At the start he was playing better than me but he was only winning one point.”
At 4-4 in the second quarter, Gasquet unloaded on his backhand for perhaps the first time all evening and Fritz was panicked, trying to use his winner counts for three card, but to no effect.
At 9-5, Gasquet used his steal serve card and extended his lead to 10-5.
Fritz cut the gap with some good serving and 5 points in a row made it 10-10, but Gasquet still had his next point counts double, and he won both to go up 14-10 with 2 points to go, and both men out of cards.
Again experience showed as Gasquet ran the clock down perfectly, and a deft backhand volley gave him the quarter 17-14.
“I like to play the young guys,” Gasquet said. “I’m playing good, I have experience of the format,” he said. “I have one more [quarter] to win, he’s still fresh but I feel OK.”
The Hotshot made a much better start in Q3 and although Gasquet recovered from 7-3 down to level at 7-7, Fritz was beginning to find his game and The Hotshot stormed ahead 18-11, helped by an outrageous reverse serve as he clinched it 21-12 to get himself right back in the match.
Suddenly Gasquet looked a little jaded and Fritz began to cut loose, sending down one serve at 227kmh as he opened up a 10-6 lead, with the Frenchman already having used both his UTS cards, for once to little effect.
The 22-year-old American looked fresh and with that big serve clicking nicely, he cruised through the remainder of the quarter to take it 20-10 and take the match into sudden death.
A slower than expected serve fooled Gasquet on the opening point but the Frenchman stayed strong, saving match point with a fine backhand volley and then winning it with a stunning forehand cross-court on the most acute of angles.
The Hotshot beats El Torero
Fritz finished his first experience of UTS3 with a 4-0 hammering over El Torero, 4-0: 17-15, 16-14, 18-13, 17-10.
“I played the important points much better [than in the first match],” he said. “Pretty much all the quarters were close but I came out on top, got to be happy with that.
“It was a lot of fun. I hope that I get another chance to play in the UTS. It’s just awesome for tennis we’re doing this, it’s a lot of fun, something different, quick.”
Gasquet will play The Demon, Alex de Minaur, in Sunday’s final, after winning both his matches on Saturday to finish on top of group 2.
The first quarter looked to be heading for a deciding point when Lopez had a high forehand volley on his racket at 15-16, only to hammer it into the net instead of away for a winner.
Lopez picked up his game in Q2 to lead 10-8 before Fritz, with the help of a timeout and a chat with coach Tommy Paul, reset and got his nose in front, winning an epic rally and taking the final point when El Torero netted again.
“I don’t know what to say, man,” Lopez said. “I think I was playing decent, but not enough though
“ Playing much better than the first match. But I’m tired, it was a long trip from Russia coming home and then coming here, but it is what it is.”
At 5-7 in Q3, Lopez was foot-faulted, much to his chagrin.
“I never made foot-faults in my life,” Lopez said, before hammering down a massive serve at 228kmh.
Lopez then used the steal serve card but won just one of the two points as Fritz led 9-7 with just three minutes to go and banged down yet another ace to clinch the quarter 18-13.
“It feels really good,” Fritz said. “Obviously being one point away last match, that was tough. Maybe I’ll go for some one-handed backhands or something now, if I see one I fancy.”
Lopez said his form was not a problem.
“There are many more important things around the world to worry about than my tennis,” he said.
Fritz maintained his form in the final quarter and the aces continued to rain down from The Hotshot’s racket and although Lopez got within one point at 10-9, the American pulled away again to complete the whitewash.