Richard Gasquet shortened the sweeping backswing of his backhand, the shot that had tormented Tomas Berdych for much of the day, sending the signal the drop shot was coming. Recognition kick-started fast-twitch fibers into action: Berdych raced forward, stretched for the ball and could see an inviting stretch of court ahead...only to tap his forehand reply into the top of the tape.
That sequence summed up a dour day for the fourth-seeded Czech: Gasquet played spins like strings in jerking Berdych around obscure areas and though the big man was willing to do the required leg work to extend points, he couldn't keep the ball above the net when it mattered.
The result was a 6-4, 6-2 victory for Gasquet, who burst out of the blocks quickly in both sets, opening a 4-0 lead in the first set and breaking in succession to build a 4-1 advantage in the second set. The 2006 finalist didn't just beat Berdych, he bamboozled him with an unsettling array of spins.
Gasquet's court positioning can sometimes look as defensive as an eye-witness fleeing from a crime scene for fear of getting too involved. But he was proactive at the outset and worked the deep and short angles wonderfully in this rematch of the 2006 Toronto quarters, which then then 51st-ranked Gasquet won, 6-4, 6-1.
It's an interesting stylistic clash: When he's on, the flat-hitting Berdych can blast through opponents. Forced to play defense at times today, he fended off 7-of-the-11 break points he faced. Gasquet is at his best cleverly shifting shots out of the opponent's strike zone — he curled short-angle spidespin shots around the corner of the service box, made the slice backhand dance at the 6-foot-5 Berdych's feet, forcing the big man to bend, and sometimes backed Berdych behind the baseline with heavy topspin off his versatile backhand wing. When Gasquet is hitting with consistent depth, he forces you to respect that deep crosscourt backhand, coaxing you to lean a little to cover it and when you do, he'll whip the flatter backhand down the line or find that sharp angle in the service box.
During one changeover, Gasquet, who sent his racquets out for restringing to accomodate the thick air on an overcast afternoon, carefully snaked his his blue Tourna Grip around the racquet handle. Among the distinctions of his style — jutting the jaw out after a big point, the celebratory sideways fist pump that looks a little like a boxer tapping a speed bag and the whipping one-hander — is that Gasquet only wraps the over-grip halfway up the handle. His game sometimes suggests partial commitment. He's got the skills that helped him win an Olympic bronze doubles medal — the sharp slice and transition game, fine feel around net and quickness — and can play more assertive tennis, but he's often more comfortable drifting back behind the baseline.
If Sebastien Grosjean, Gasquet's part-time coach and a man with a flair for the all-court game, can persuade his charge to use the full range of his talents more consistently, he can continue to challenge. Next up for the 21st-ranked Frenchman is 2011 finalist Mardy Fish, who has won three straight vs. Gasquet — all straight-sets Masters matches on hard court — to take a 3-2 lead in their head-to-head series.