Sunday at the Ultimate Tennis Showdown saw three players qualify for the semifinals, and another semifinalist pull off an unlikely three-peat. With the final one week away (more on that below), here are the highlights:
UTS stands for…Ultimate TSitsipas?
Ultimate Tennis Showdown
Stefanos Tsitsipas would normally be playing best-of-five-set matches this week, at Wimbledon. Instead, he’s playing an event with a format and vibe that couldn’t possibly be more different than tennis at SW19—with a best-of-five element of its own.
For the third time in the competition, Tsitsipas won a match after losing the first two quarters. Trailing Corentin Moutet 10-16, 11-13, Tsitsipas had no margin for error, needing to win the third and fourth quarters, along with the sudden-death stage, where the first player to win two consecutive points takes the match. Is this troika the same as winning a third, fourth and fifth set at a Slam? No, but there was still pressure, and Tsitsipas’ play under it was impressive.
He began to turn things around after taking the third quarter, 15-11. The fourth quarter was a relative breeze, 19-5, but only two lax points would render the rally for naught. But after splitting the first two points of sudden death, Tsitsipas won the third and fourth for the victory:
Tsitsipas has now won from two quarters down in three of his last four matches, the other comebacks against Matteo Berrettini and Feliciano Lopez. He’s 3-0 when down 0-2. The combined record when trailing by two quarters, for the rest of the field? 0-16.
The Semifinalists Are Settled
Ultimate Tennis Showdown
Tsitsipas was the only player to have clinched a semifinal spot coming into Sunday; the remaining tickets could all have been awarded depending on the results. When it was all over, only the positioning of the semifinalists remains undetermined. (The last day of regular play is Saturday, July 11; the final is on Sunday, July 12; watch both on UTSlive.tv)
First, Berrettini did the anti-Tsitsipas, defeating Alexei Popyrin 4-0. He would secure a place in the final four if Richard Gasquet won later in the day—which the Frenchman did, taking out fellow veteran Lopez in sudden death. With the win, Gasquet also went through to next Sunday’s final.
Lopez rallied from a 1-7 deficit in the fourth quarter to force sudden death, before Gasquet ended his match with an ace.
Last but not least, David Goffin rounded out the semifinals with 3-1 win over Benoit Paire. The match had its moments, but the real treat was Paire’s mid-match commentary. This 1:02 clip is a love letter to Goffin, which UTS has aptly dubbed “The Wall.” Clearly, Paire agrees:
"David [Goffin] is better than me. He's small, but he runs everywhere. I played him in Madrid this year on the PlayStation: I lost 6-0 and I won four points. He put speed 99, serve 1 and that's it."— UTS | Ultimate Tennis Showdown (@UTShowdown) July 5, 2020
This is officially the @benoitpaire one-man-show... ????#UTShowdown pic.twitter.com/ZVcIZkoTCK
A word on Richard Gasquet
Ultimate Tennis Showdown
Aside from Paire’s lackluster record, the UTS standings aren’t too surprising with one weekend to go. As I’ve noticed at other events, including last week’s Credit One Bank Invitational in Charleston, many of the players who were playing well before the stoppage are picking up where they left off. Makes sense, right? Not to many pundits who overthink it, and this will likely apply to team sports as well, whenever they can safely resume.
Tsitsipas and Goffin, the class of UTS1, backed up their resumes with semifinal showings in Nice. Berrettini was a US Open semifinalist less than 12 months ago, and has rediscovered his form, winning 21 quarters and losing just 12. But take look at who’s in second place: Gasquet.
Now 34 years old and 50th in the ATP rankings, Gasquet continues to chug along, his time as a serious title contender likely in the past. Not known for his consistency, Gasquet peaked sporadically throughout his career—a breakout win over Roger Federer in Monte Carlo as a teenager; a three-time Grand Slam semifinalist—inspiring my colleague Steve Tignor to bestow the Frenchman with the same nickname given to basketball player Vinnie Johnson, who could heat up from three-point range without warning: The Microwave. For a time, I was sold too: my tennis blog of the mid-2000s was titled Gasquet and Racquet.
Many people will associate Gasquet with his inability to live up to the sky-high expectations of a prodigy. But I think many other people are appreciating Gasquet’s unlikely longevity. His one-handed backhand is one of a kind, a signature shot that, like an autograph, will always identify Gasquet. But he’s surely more than that if he’s still playing, and still winning, nearly 20 years after turning pro in 2002.
Winning the Ultimate Tennis Showdown wouldn’t be the highlight of Gasquet’s impressive career, which includes 15 titles and over 500 wins, but if it happens, don’t simply write it off either. Just like the player himself.