Gaudio comes backs from dead to win title
By Matt Cronin
Sunday, June 6, 2004
In an extraordinary performance from a relatively unknown player, Argentina’s Gaston Gaudio came back from two sets and two match points down to put down a heroic effort from his countryman Guillermo Coria 0-6 3-6 6-4 6-1 8-6 and win his first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros.
"This means everything to me," said Gaudio, who became the first Argentine since Guillermo Vilas in 1977 to win the title. "Since I was a kid I was dreaming to be here and win the tournament. Until now, I never believed I could win a Grand Slam."
In a bizarre match that saw Coria appear to almost retire due to severe cramps in the fourth set, the unseeded Gaudio overcame a jangled set of nerves and managed to outlast the battling Coria.
It was the first time since ‘Guga’ Kuerten won the title here in 1997 that an unseeded player raised the trophy, but it was arguably the first time in the Open era that a man in mid-career with suspect credentials suddenly found himself on the big stage of triumph. Prior to Roland Garros, Gaudio had never advanced beyond the fourth round of a Grand Slam in six years on tour.
"I don’t know how many changes I made or the main thing that I changed, but the only thing I know is that I won," said Gaudio, who has been working with a sports psychologist for the past year. "I changed a lot of things with my mental game and was working a lot, but I didn’t know I could win a Grand Slam like this. Maybe from now on I’m going to believe in myself more."
It was also the first time since 1934 that a Roland Garros champion had rescued himself from a match point down, and the No44 ranked Gaudio was fortunate enough that Coria decided to go for two down-the-line winners on his match points and barely missed them.
Coria – who had only lost two matches on clay in the past year prior to Sunday – was a heavy favorite entering the match and looked all the part of a champion in the first two sets, flying about the court and rarely missing a ball. Gaudio was unable to penetrate the exquisite counterpuncher until the third set, when he began to find depth and accuracy on his heavy groundstrokes.
Gaudio broke Coria to 3-2 in the third set when the 22-year-old missed a forehand down-the-line but then was broken right back when he missed a forehand. During the changeover, the sold-out crowd went into a prolonged rendition of the wave. Gaudio clapped their efforts, broke into a broad smile and loosened up.
"It was real important to me because I was too nervous," Gaudio said. "After that I started to relax and tried to enjoy the moment. It worked."
Gaudio came on strong and Coria began to feel pressure and was unable to kiss the lines like he had in the first two sets. Coria committed another forehand error and was broken to 5-4 and then Gaudio held at love to win the set when Coria missed a forehand return.
After the two held in the opening games of the fourth set, the ground slid out beneath Coria, who called a medical time-out to have his leg massaged. But he was unable to walk more than a few steps at a time or bend his knees to serve and Gaudio ran way with the set. Coria said he was overcome with nerves, which caused his body to seize up.
"I became nervous because it was new to me," said Coria. "I had the experience of other tournaments, but I couldn’t control my nervousness. You can’t replay history."
But in the fifth set, Coria regained some of his movement. He was never able to crank up his serve or move well to his left and was consistently exposed when running for backhands, but with Gaudio unsure of how to play against a hobbled opponent, the match see-sawed back and forth.
"I've waited my whole life to win this tournament," Coria said. It was the dream of my life so I fought to the end."
Coria broke Gaudio to 1-2 with a backhand down-the-line and was pasting forehand winners all over the place, but whenever Gaudio managed to stretch him out, Coria was vulnerable. But Gaudio kept smiling, reveling in the charged up atmosphere.
"It was like a movie,” he said.
Coria was broken to 4-4 when he missed a forehand, which began a string of five straight breaks. Coria served for the match at 6-5 and held two match points, but missed a running backhand down-the-line and forehand down-the-lines by inches.
"Gaudio saved them," Coria said. "He was smart because he made me move. I was exhausted and made mistakes… I believe that if I felt good, the match would have changed."
Gaudio then broke him to 6-6 when he forced a backhand error, held easily to 7-6 and won the three-and-a-half-hour match when he nailed a forehand winner.
The ebullient Gaudio – who knocked off Lleyton Hewitt, David Nalbandian and Coria en route to the title - then ran around Court Philippe Chatrier and high-fived dozens of fans.
Coria was devastated after the contest, saying that had he won, he would have redeemed his reputation, which suffered damage when he was suspended for doping for seven months at the end of 2001 and beginning of 2002. Coria claims he was given contaminated supplements but the suspension stuck.
"After what happened to me because of the doping, I was dreaming of this situation. To see my body let me down, I wanted to come out of this story," said Coria, who broke down crying. "I came here thinking this was ‘the’ opportunity to demonstrate to everybody, especially those who judged me, to show them what I was able to do and keep them quiet. I really wanted to empty myself of all that, but I was not able to do so."
During the presentation ceremony when Vilas and John McEnroe presented him with the Musketeer Cup, Gaudio also broke down crying while thanking his parents. He gave credit to his father, Noberto, for sticking with him.
"Everything that I have done, I owe to him,” Gaudio said. "He made so much effort for me and all my brothers and sisters. I want to dedicate this to him."