In the hands of highly-skilled mischief-makers — think John McEnroe, Martina Hingis, Ilie Nastase or Fabrice Santoro — the drop shot can sting with the audacity of a practical joke pulled during a debate. In the hands of Richard Gasquet, the dropper was downright disarming today.
Leading 3-2 in the second set, Gasquet hit a backhand drop shot slathered with such side spin the ball darted away from John Isner and danced beneath the Corona sign affixed to the net. Gasquet teased the 6-foot-9 Isner with that devious dropper, then drilled a backhand pass down the line to secure the only break of the match.
Showcasing brilliant feel and a rock-solid serve, the 14th-seeded Frenchman did not face a break point in downsizing Isner, 7-6 (3), 6-3, to reach the Rogers Cup final. It's the third Masters final of Gasquet's career and marks his first Masters title match since he fell to world No. 1 Roger Federer, 6-2, 3-6, 2-6, in the 2006 Toronto final.
In the last 24 hours, the sometimes fragile Gasquet has dismissed three Top 15-ranked players — seventh-ranked Tomas Berdych, 2011 finalist Mardy Fish in last night's quarterfinals and the 11th-ranked Isner — deploying his all-court game and shot-making skills to defuse three highly-explosive servers.
From the first point, Gasquet's game plan was clear: Maintain a high first-serve percentage against the return-challenged Isner, work the American's inferior backhand over in backhand exchanges and chip back low returns to force the big man to bend for his first rally strike. He executed effectively on all courts.
The only break points of the first set came in the third game, but Isner staved off both, closing a three-deuce game with a declarative ace to hold for 2-1. Gasquet was even more effective than Isner on serve in the first set. The Frenchman has a loose arm and imparts a lot of action on the ball from a condensed motion. He dotted all areas of the box, serving 88 percent and surrendering just four points on serve in the set, including a convincing love hold for 6-6.
Former Georgia bulldog Isner had chewed up the competition in tie breakers, winning 12 of his last 14 breakers in boasting an ATP-best 32-12 record in tie breakers compared to a 5-8 record in breakers for his opponent. But Gasquet torched the Isner backhand to draw a mini-break in the first point, rolled out to a 3-0 lead then hit an eye-popping running forehand pass crosscourt to 4-2. Gasquet's whipping one-hander is his kill shot, but he guessed right on an Isner wide serve and ripped a forehand return crosscourt drawing an error for set point. Running down an Isner drop shot, Gasquet shoveled a backhand reply then slammed a smash to seal the 42-minute first set. Gasquet won 11 of the last 14 points of the opener, finishing with 13 winners against 4 errors; Isner smacked 16 winners, but committed 17 errors.
Too many loose errors cost Isner: He failed to put a return in play at 40-30 as Gasquet held for 5-2. Serving for the match, Gasquet looked tight down 15-30, but Isner scattered three errors finishing with more than three times as many errors (33 to 10) as his opponent.
Gasquet will face the winner of tonight's all-Serbian semi between top-seeded Novak Djokovic and fifth-seeded Janko Tipsarevic in the Sunday night final. Djokovic has won six of seven meetings with Gasquet; the 26-year-old Frenchman is 2-0 against Tipsarevic, including a 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 Australian Open win in January.