Gasquet set for Davis Cup debut
Ten years after appearing on the cover of France's leading tennis magazine as the nine-year-old hope of French tennis, 19-year-old Richard Gasquet is finally set to make his Davis Cup debut. Gasquet opens against Russia's Igor Andreev in a Davis Cup by BNP Paribas quarterfinal for which the draw reads:
Igor Andreev (RUS) v Richard Gasquet (FRA)
Nikolay Davydenko (RUS) v Paul-Henri Mathieu (FRA)
Igor Andreev/Mikhail Youzhny (RUS) v Arnaud Clement/Michael Llodra (FRA)
Nikolay Davydenko (RUS) v Richard Gasquet (FRA)
Igor Andreev (RUS) v Paul-Henri Mathieu (FRA)
For many, Gasquet's first appearance in tennis's premier team competition was an inevitability, but Gasquet has come through a rough couple of years since announcing his presence as a 16-year-old at the 2002 Monte Carlo Masters, where he thrilled local fans with a three-sets win over Franco Squillari, then ranked 51.
This year he has been one of only three players to have beaten Roger Federer, that also coming at Monte Carlo, where his win from match point down announced that he had put behind him a troublesome period which saw a series of injuries, two changes of coach, chicken pox, and a few classic teenage problems of graduating from childhood to adulthood.
With Andreev's name first out of the pot at Thursday's draw in Moscow's Olympic Stadium, Gasquet is well set to give France a winning start, if he can justify his ranking of 17, compared to Andreev's of 46. Their one previous match, won by Andreev on the grass of London's Queen's Club last year, is of little consequence given the strides Gasquet has made this year.
The only surprise in the draw was that Andreev was nominated in place of the higher-ranked Mikhail Youzhny (27th), but the feeling among the several dozen journalists attending the tie in Moscow is that Russia's captain Shamil Tarpischev may well be holding Youzhny back for a possible fifth rubber against Paul-Henri Mathieu, the man he beat from two sets down to give Russia its first and so far only Davis Cup title in a dramatic final in Paris three years ago.
But for that to happen, Nikolay Davydenko will have to play both his singles, and his presence on the opening day is something of a gamble by Tarpischev. Davydenko may be the world No 7, and his Champions Race position of 5th testifies to the fact that 2005 is the best year of his career. But the French Open semifinalist has retired from his last two matches - in Wimbledon and Gstaad - with an inflammation to his right wrist. "I may have some pain," he said after the draw, "but I'm sure I can get through one match. Then we'll see."
Davydenko, playing his first Davis Cup tie as Russian No. 1 due to the absence through injury of Marat Safin, tests his wrist in the second of the opening day's singles against Paul-Henri Mathieu, the Frenchman who despite being ranked just 57th has won his last three Davis Cup matches , defeating Carlos Moya, Joachim Johansson and Thomas Johansson.
If Davydenko can't play on Sunday, then Youzhny will be needed against Gasquet, unless Tarpischev brings in the Davis Cup rookie Teimuraz Gabashvili, a 20-year-old with a ranking of 211.
France's captain Guy Forget continues to say Russia is a slight favourite, though it's hard to believe him looking at the draw. Forget has the one clear advantage in the presence of the experienced Clément and Llodra in the doubles, as Youzhny and Andreev have never played together. But Forget believes Davydenko and Andreev - a regular pairing on the tour - will face the French on Saturday, assuming Davydenko's wrist comes through Friday's test.
It could be that the destination of this quarterfinal rests with how a few tendons in Davydenko's right arm behave over the next three days.