We all know how great Richard Gasquet‘s backhand is. It’s arguably the best one-hander in the game, and the down-the-line version is right up there with with any other men’s backhandweapon, one- or two-handed.
What has struck me in his last two matches is that, unlike virtually every other top player, he never runs around it. Even Stanislas Wawrinka, another man with a claim on the “best one-hander” title, will frequently take several steps to get in position to hit a forehand from the backhand corner.
Gasquet doesn’t do that. In 277 points yesterday, he ran all the way around a backhand once, and there were two or three other shots when he took a couple of steps to hit a forehand when he might have taken one to hit a backhand. In other words, he’s totally comfortable hitting his backhand from anywhere on the court, against any spin, at any height, and he trusts it as his go-to offensive shot.
In my detailed stats tables, I added a chart last night showing shot types–how many each player hit, grouped into various categories. Against David Ferrer, Gasquet hit 296 backhands (excluding slices) to 222 forehands, a ratio of 1.33. Ferrer hit 274 to 297, a 0.923 ratio. Ferrer is more typical. He can hit solid crosscourt backhands all day long–even crush a down-the-line winner on occasion, but given the opportunity, he’ll move around it and hit a more powerful inside-out forehand.
Of the last five men’s matches I’ve charted, Gasquet’s backhand preference stands out. Marcos Baghdatis vs Kevin Anderson: 0.58 for Baghdatis, 0.36 for Anderson. Lleyton Hewitt vs Brian Baker? 0.72 for Hewitt, 0.86 for Baker. Tomas Berdych, 0.65, against Julien Benneteau, 0.73. Against Denis Istomin, Andy Murray‘s ratio was 0.56. Only Istomin is anywhere near Gasquet’s category, with a ratio of 1.15, and that may be more a testament to Murray’s ability to find his opponent’s backhand than anything else.
For all the beauty of Gasquet’s backhand, much of the time it is a simple rallying shot. Move him deep into that corner, and he generally won’t hurt you. I’m not convinced all those backhands make up a wise tactical decision–perhaps more inside-out forehands would be in order. Certainly, he’ll need to come up with something out of the ordinary when he faces Rafael Nadal on Saturday.
From the day the draw was announced, Flavia Pennetta‘s quarter was considered the wide-open section of the field. Except, until yesterday, nobody thought of it as Pennetta’s quarter. Technically it was fourth-seed Sara Errani‘s to lose, which she promptly did, to Pennetta in the second round. It was also considered fair game for Caroline Wozniacki … who lost in the third round. Then it was the domain of rising star Simona Halep … another Pennetta victim.
Surely Flavia’s run ends tomorrow at the hands of Victoria Azarenka. In the meantime, let’s take a moment to celebrate a few amazing aspects of her accomplishment thus far.
Ranked 83rd–and ranked outside of the top 100 only six weeks ago–it took a late injury withdrawal to get her into the main draw. Now, she is only the 10th woman in the Open era to reach a Grand Slam semifinal while ranked outside of the top 80. Just one previous US Open semifinalist–Angelique Kerber two years ago–was ranked so low.
Another remarkable aspect of Pennetta’s run is that she has reached her first Slam semifinal at the age of 31. Only three women–Gigi Fernandez, Nathalie Tauziat, and Wendy Turnbull–reached their first Slam semi after turning 30. (Fernandez did it while ranked outside the top 80, making her the proto-Flavia.) Turnbull is the only first-time semifinalist to have done so while older than Pennetta is now, by a couple of months. She accomplished that feat at the 1984 US Open. Amazingly, it wasn’t Turnbull’s only moment in the spotlight–she reached the semis of the Australian a few months later, beating a young Steffi Graf along the way. She even reached the quarters at the following year’s US Open.
Finally, we may marvel at the fact that Pennetta, once a top-ten player, did not reach a semifinal until this, her 41st slam. Also near the top of the all-time leaderboard, but not a record. Francesca Schiavone had played 41 slams before reaching her first semi in the French Open a few years ago. Tauziat makes another appearance here; she needed 44 tries before winning five straight matches. The most dogged of all WTA players must be Elena Likhotseva, who played 56 career Slams, not making it to the semifinal in her 46th try.
Most of these precedents jibe with our intuition that, no matter how hot she is, Flavia doesn’t stand much of a chance against Vika. But a couple of these cases–Schiavone with her two deep French open runs, and Turnbull with her pair of late-career semifinals–suggest that this could be more than a one-off for the Italian.
Rafael Nadal has yet to lose serve at the US Open, and has a string of 82 consecutive service holds going back to Cincinnati. I plan to have more on this before his semifinal match.
I’ll chart one of the two men’s quarters today, though I’m not yet sure which one. Keep an eye on my Twitter account, as I’ll post those stats after each set.
And last for today, here’s an example of thorough data collection that tennis organizations will almost certainly fail to follow.