The first leg of the Ultimate Tennis Showdown was completed on Monday when ‘The Greek God’, Stefanos Tsitsipas, edged out Richard ‘The Virtuoso’ Gasquet in a sudden-death thriller in the south of France, 3-2: 17-12, 14-15, 15-12, 13-15, [5-3], to top the league table.
The format was perfect. It was intense as it should be. It was fun, fun to play, really nice. Right now, there are no competitions, it's the best thing we can do. There is zero doubt. Excellent conditions, the Centre Court is beautiful. I can only dream of being here. Richard Gasquet
Both players had won their opening matches coming into the eagerly anticipated encounter, and after Gasquet won the fourth quarter to take it into a decider, it was Tsitsipas who took the match on his fourth match point.
A very early time-out from the Tsitsipas coaching corner, of which each player is allowed four per match, was an interesting call – father urging son to get up into the court and step into his shots.
Gasquet had triumphed in a sudden death thriller against David Goffin on Sunday, and the Frenchman established an early lead in this unique format, which allows players to use UTS cards, picked ahead of the match, to their advantage, when they require.
The Virtuoso was first to try, with a ‘winners count x3’, but lost both points when ahead early in the opening ten-minute quarter.
Next came Tsitsipas, his ‘winner x3’ card paying handsome dividends, as a clean forehand into the corner notched three points en route to a comprehensive 17-12 opening quarter.
“I don’t really know what happened, but I made some good decisions there,” said Tsitsipas after his sluggish start.
“If I remember, I was two points back and he was serving, so it was important when I won those two points on his service points and got back on the score and gained a little confidence knowing that he wasted his two cards and didn’t use them wisely.”
Tsitsipas had won his opening match 3-1 against Benoit Paire and now had momentum on his side, The Greek God blasting successive aces to edge ahead, but the flashing backhand blade of Gasquet is one of the great joys of tennis, and a running winner up the line was even applauded by Tsitsipas himself.
As with the opening ten-minute quarter, it was Gasquet who took the early lead at 7-5.
In a format where momentum can turn on in an instant, there was little to separate them, Gasquet narrowly missing his trademark backhand for a x3 winner before finding his mark the very next point to again lead 11-9.
Decision making and using cards at the right time are a key element of UTS, as well as awareness of the clock, and when Tsitsipas fired down a x3 ace winner of his own, Gasquet led the second quarter 14-12 with only a minute remaining.
With two serves left, The Greek God levelled up before Gasquet just had time to hit an un-returnable serve to edge it out by a point, 15-14.
“I had to give my best, if not it was 2-0 and it would be tough to come back, so I tried to fight a lot and I won the three points and I start the last point well and I won but it was a tough one,” said Gasquet at the change of ends.
After the exertions required to grab the second quarter, Gasquet seemed the more fatigued early in the third.
Another important element of UTS is that the four-quarter format means a player is always in the hunt unless he loses the opening three – a sudden death decider the result of a 2-2 draw.
At 6-6, The Virtuoso deployed his ‘winner x3’ card, and it paid handsome dividends, the Frenchman finding an inspired second serve ace to again lead 9-7.
The Greek God was next to strike, following one card after another, garnering four points on the trot to wrestle the initiative.
It would be another quarter to go to the wire, all the positives of this brand of ‘speed tennis’ coming to the fore but it was Tsitsipas who had points in the bank when the clock wound down to zero.
“That pissed me off,” said Tsitsipas of Gasquet’s second serve x3 ace winner. “I need to be angry sometimes.
“He is known to be a good player who covers the court really well, his defensive game is really good so that’s what actually makes Gasquet who he is.”
Into the final quarter, and with Tsitsipas finding himself 2-6 behind, the Greek God deployed the first of his cards with ‘steal serve’ but, sometimes, UTS cards do not work to a player’s advantage, Gasquet winning both points against serve to establish a stranglehold.
It triggered another Tsitsipas coaching time out, the advice for more aggression, which seemed to work as he utilised his winner x3 card before finding a clean backhand up the line to reduce the arrears.
All cards expended, Gasquet found himself 12-9 up with two minutes remaining, and the quarter looked over, but despite a little wobble, a 15-13 win meant it would be another sudden death decider – first to win two consecutive points takes the match.
After the opening point, every point is a match point, and this was the most exciting of sudden deaths so far, both players having three of their own before a netted forehand gave Tsitsipas the win by the narrowest of margins.
“Honestly, I liked it, it was nice. It’s new,’ Gasquet reflected. “
The format was perfect. It was intense as it should be. It was fun, fun to play, really nice.
“Right now, there are no competitions, it’s the best thing we can do. There is zero doubt. Excellent conditions, the Centre Court is beautiful.
“I can only dream of being here.”
In the day’s other results, France’s Elliot ‘The Underdog’ Benchetrit, filling in for the otherwise engaged Dominic Thiem, edged past compatriot Lucas ‘The French Flair’ Pouille, 3-2: 16-11, 11-14, 12-14, 15-10 [3-1].
Benoit ‘The Rebel’ Paire defeated Dustin ‘The Artist’ Brown in battle of two great entertainers, 3-1: 18-19, 17-14, 18-15, 21-12; while Mateo ‘The Hammer’ Berrettini broke down David ‘The Wall’ Goffin by the same score, 3-1: 13-12, 20-8, 18-9, 11-12.
In the night session’s other match, 20-year-old Alexei ‘The Sniper’ Popyrin recorded his second win of the weekend by shooting down 38-year-old veteran Feliciano ‘The Torero’ Lopez also by a score of 3-1: 31-11, 14-17, 14-13, 15-12.
The Ultimate Tennis Showdown is an international tennis promotion company organising no-audience live-broadcasted tennis competition events around the world.
It is a groundbreaking tennis league created by Patrick Mouratoglou, who coaches Serena Williams and mentors Stefanos Tsitsipas, Coco Gauff, Alexei Popyrin, and Holger Rune.
Adopting a unique and innovative format, UTS consists of 50 fast-paced matches and a lightened code of conduct.
The next leg of the competition takes place over the coming weekend, 20-12 June, at the Mouratoglou Academy, on the French Rivera.