With my lack of interest in the US Open, 5th set tiebreakers, Stupid Saturday and general ambivalence to this part of the season, from this perspective I tend to be more interested in the Challengers and the upcoming of the Australian Open. The next two articles will be about players that have retired and left the tennis world behind, neither will be easy to write.
What was your main motivation for your return?
Gaudio : Well... (smiles) when you're a player, you fuck more.
Humorous and amorous Argentine Gaston Gaudio last week officially decided to retire from tennis. This was as surprising as clouds in the sky on a rainy day, as he has been active since Kitzbühel Challenger 2010 where he lost to Pablo Andujar 6-0 6-2. It was not the best way for him to finish, but Kitzbühel was one of his favourite stops on tour especially the Londoner which is a fine drinking establishment. Gaudio on Kitz “I thoroughly enjoyed going there, we had an amazing time. I always wanted to win that tournament. We went there to party, because the night-life is wild, really wild. Everybody who went there played in the tournament, exploded at night, and next day they couldn´t play. I used to go out every night, get up at noon and on top of that I´d win. Total madness, I swear”. So, it’s apt that his last professional match was at a venue that he loved.
Gaston with childhood coach Roberto Carruthers
Coming out of Temperely in Buenos Aires province, Gaudio wasn’t solely focused on playing tennis as a junior. He played football and rugby union as well, no he wasn’t your Mascherano type of footballer. A combination of factors led to Gaudio deciding to becoming a professional player. His fathers business was going through some tough times economically plus the beginning of health problems. In addition his best friend Mariano Zabaleta who was number 1 junior in the world and Mariano Puerta doing well on the tour, Gaudio didn’t travel much to junior events but wasn’t far from the standard of Puerta who was making money, this was able to help out the family business through the difficulties.
This was not an easy ride. The AAT (Argentine Tennis Federation) who aren’t known for being competent with player development or tennis management showed this at an early stage. Before the “Golden Generation” Argentine tennis was struggling just with Franco Squillari and Hernan Gumy flying the flag. At the same time they managed to have Agustin Calleri, Juan Ignacio Chela, Guillermo Cañas, Zabaleta, Puerta and Gaudio all around the same age, yet the AAT had nothing at all to do with their development. There was an occasion when these guys were at a junior event in Spain, that the AAT didn’t have enough cash to get them back, yet they succeeded in spite of this incompetence.
Starting out on tour
If it wasn’t for Hernan Gumy helping Gaston out financially at the start of his career then the tennis world wouldn’t have seen one of the more different and expressive characters on the circuit. He started in 1996 like most players who don’t have IMG or a powerful federation he was playing in the Futures and Challenger circuit. Won his Futures event in 1998 then was able to win two challenger titles as well in that year the last being in Santiago defeating Karim “the dream” Alami during the Copa Ericsson/Copa Petrobras Series of challengers which were very hard fought events helping young South Americans toughen up before they joined the main tour and eased the financial burden.
In 1999 Gaudio made his first major impact on the tennis world he won 2 challengers then as a qualifier making the 3rd round at Roland Garros in the 2nd round defeated the “German Gigolo” Bernd Karbacher from 2 sets to 0 down. After that he lost to Alex Corretja who ended up with a 6-1 H2H record in their matches, which were enjoyable filled with some gorgeous single hand backhands but Corretja was mentally stronger. This was when Gaudio believed he could exist on tour and play with the good guys, “Yes, when I was 19 I played against Alex Corretja, one of the best players at that moment, and it was a very even match. That´s when I realised that I could play well. I remember that during the course of the match I would say to myself: ´This is Corretja?´ He didn´t seem all that special to me. That made me feel, that I could easily play (at that level).”
Alex Corretja and Gaston Gaudio milking a cow in Gstaad
Establishing himself on tour was the next challenge winning Braunschweig CH and making his first ATP final at Stuttgart losing to Franco Squillari. Gaudio wasn’t able to conquer Stuttgart losing in the final three times to Franco Squillari, Guillermo Cañas (both in 5 sets) and to Rafael Nadal. The winner of the event gets a new Mercedes straight from the factory. He joked “if I can’t win the title, then I’m going to steal the car”.
Winning the first title
It took a while for Gaudio to win his first title, but when it came in 2002 at Barcelona it was done in great style. Barcelona which is one of the most prestigious clay events on the tour the event has been won by Borg, Lendl, Vilas, Nastase, Muster, Wilander and Carlsson. He became the first Argentine to win there since Martin Jaite who was his coach at the time. He won it without losing a set beating some very impressive names, Moya one of the best on clay at the time, Hewitt who was number 1 in the world and thumping Albert Costa in the final, who ended up winning Roland Garros this year. This can be best summed up “Yes, I won Barcelona playing unbelievably”.
Gaston Gaudio wins Barcelona
64 W Albert MONTANES (ESP) 6-3 6-2
32 W Thomas ENQVIST (SWE) 6-4 6-2
16 W Carlos MOYA (ESP) 6-4 6-2
QF W Alberto MARTIN (ESP) 6-2 6-4
SF W Lleyton HEWITT (AUS) 6-4 7-5
FR W Albert COSTA (ESP) 6-4 6-0 6-2
Davis Cup brings out different things in different players, some of them play well above themselves like Boris Becker, David Nalbandian and Dominik Hrbaty, then there were others like Stefan Edberg, Davydenko, Chela or Jürgen Melzer who played below their talents. Gaudio was different as he always has been coming from his background of team sports he loved the event, as Davis Cup has the habit of doing produced some of his best moments but also his worst career moments .
After having a comfortable start to his Davis Cup career playing home times on his beloved clay going 7-0 against players he should be beating. In 2002 he faced his first big pressure tie with Argentina playing Croatia in the quarter finals. Gaudio was the star of the tie defeating Ljubicic easily in straight sets, with the tie at 2-2 he chopped the big tree Ivo Karlovic in straight sets to take Argentina through to the semis.
Not long after this high Gaudio experienced the first low of his Davis Cup career playing against Yevgeny Kafelnikov in Russia on a fast low bouncing carpet a surface Gaudio wasn’t his best. This match was famous for one of the worst overrules in tennis, with the umpire being Jorge Dias who was well known for wanting to be part of theatre and lacking competency in his profession. Gaudio leads 5-1 in the 5th set with a match point which was overruled by Dias, naturally Gaudio and captain Gattiker go crazy at this decision, which the Russians didn’t protest the original call making the decision even more ridiculous. In spite of this Gaudio should have closed the match out, but the fragility which was never far from the surface got the better on this occasion.
What followed the next year in Malaga was the lowest point in Gaudio’s career. Argentina winning the Davis Cup is something they covet deeply, yet still haven’t done it. The team were in disarray with the main two players David Nalbandian and Guillermo Coria missing the tie due to injury, there were rumours of Coria’s injury being exaggerated as to whether it’s true or not this is something that will never be known. Argentine squad were depleted to the point that Gaudio suffering from a lack of confidence and poor form was included due to his Davis Cup exploits.
In the opening match with Ferrero it was 4-4 in the 1st set, after this Gaudio didn’t win another game in the match. Ferrero was playing well but not that well, during the match Gaudio was getting heckled and jeered for a lack of effort. Naturally fans can boo or heckle if they pay their money and they don’t think he was putting in his best efforts. At the same time this must have been a horrible experience lacking confidence beforehand playing in a pressure match without the right mental balance. Tanking when playing for yourself is different, not that this was a tank at all because tanking in Davis Cup is not on. Gattiker needed to be a psychologist during this tie, but wasn’t capable.
Zabaleta was up 2 sets to 0 before cramping badly losing to Moya, after a horrid day 1 Argentina levelled after a doubles win plus Agustin Calleri coming in for Zabaleta playing lights out thumping Ferrero who was number 1 at the time. Calleri was blasting so many winners the Malaga crowd gave him a standing ovation. Gaudi has the chance to redeem himself but produces another poor performance losing in straight sets and Spain make the final. Yes, Gaudio was poor in difficult circumstances but the level of vitriol and abuse was intense. When he was back in Buenos Aires people would tell him what a shit performance it was, a disgrace and should never play Davis Cup again. Ironically Gaudio never played Davis Cup again this was more due to circumstances ( court conditions) or balance of the team.
After what happened in Malaga plus the following negative reactions from fans and press alike left Gaudio with a crisis of confidence. 2004 Gaudio reached the 2nd round of the Australian Open after giving Tommy Robredo a lesson, he played his nemesis Dominik Hrbaty in the next round. He asked me who won the match, I said Hrbaty his reaction summed it up “ Noo, not this guy I don’t want to play him”. Just wasn’t feeling it that day and got smoked in straight sets. He was talking about retiring thankfully this was not the case.
There were signs of life during the European clay season he was toying with Lleyton Hewitt at Monte Carlo leading 6-1 5-2 served for the match but choked as he did plenty of times in his career, while he lost the match it was the start of improvement. He reached the Barcelona final beating Moya on the way who was top 10 at the time losing to Tommy Robredo in the final where one of the most dodgy acts of gamesmanship occurred. Robredo up 5-4 serving for the title in the 5th set 15-40 calls for the trainer for cramps. First of all should only happen at change of ends, the umpire got conned by a bullshit move, while Robredo was celebrating the title better things were along the way for Gaudio. "The doubt prevails. But it was my fault: I got distracted afterwards. He used a great tactic, although I could never do something like that right" On a footnote the next time they played each other in Monte Carlo 2006 Gaudio hardly looked at Robredo in the face.
Gaudio lost another 1st round match in Hamburg to Federer, after the 1st set, Gaudio settled down played some classic clay tennis plenty of engaging rallies 7-5 in the 2nd, then serving to stay in the match at 4-5 dropped serve to lose as Federer won the event.
World Team Cup the week before Roland Garros Gaudio won a couple of matches against Verkerk or Hewitt, but nothing to suggest that he was going to perform one of the most surprising, enjoyable Roland Garros tournament victories with a bizarre final that’ll be very difficult to beat for the drama it created. Gaudio had never been past the 4th round at any Slam before 2004 Roland Garros nor did he achieve it afterwards. The potential was always there when in the mood the single hand backhand is a work of art, can drive well high or low, ability to change direction, feel on the backhand dropshot, slice wasn’t used so often but used well. The big key to his improvement was the forehand which was used mainly to set up the play for the backhand to finish off. Now the forehand was able to win more points outright with this shot and Franco Davin a calming influence all contributed.
As an unseeded player Gaudio wasn’t going to get an easy Very tough first rounder with fellow Argentine Cañas in 5, took out the seed Jiri Novak in 5 sets. Gaudio settled down took out Enqvist and Andreev without too much fuss. The quarter final with Hewitt was just brilliant Gaudio hardly any errors at all, the backhand working its magic, no shenanigans about how crap he was playing when the ball missed by the strings by 0.000001mm. Hewitt knew he was beaten by the better man and the Aussie commentators didn’t want to admit it though they weakened eventually. Next up was David Nalbandian in the semi final it was another brilliant showing from Gaudio, both guys were working the angles with the backhand. Gaudio took the 1st set, Nalbandian served for the 2nd set but Gaudio fought back to get into the tiebreaker, once he won the TB he was seeing the ball so well and Nalbandian had an injury problem as well though he knew early in the 3rd set the fork was in there.
Gaston Gaudio wins Roland Garros
R128 Guillermo Canas (ARG) 72 6-2, 2-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2
R64 Jiri Novak (CZE) 14 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3
R32 Thomas Enqvist (SWE) 65 6-0, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-4
R16 Igor Andreev (RUS) 77 6-4, 7-5, 6-3
Q Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) 12 6-3, 6-2, 6-2
S David Nalbandian (ARG) 8 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-0
W Guillermo Coria (ARG) 3 0-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 8-6
Gaudio vs. Coria
Yes, this has been a very long article before mentioning the man he beat in the final Guillermo Coria. There are just some things that aren’t meant to happen. Pineapple shouldn’t be on pizza, the sun doesn’t spin around the earth, Stoke will never play good football and only altitude sickness you will get in the Netherlands isn’t through the mountains. These two were just never meant to get on, they had a few incidents and the press loved stirring it up as well since it was good copy.
Coria was the kid who was bred to play tennis, whereas Gaudio wasn’t necessarily. Coria got support from the AAT whereas Gaudio and players from his generation didn’t. Before Roland Garros Coria booked a hotel for the celebration for winning the title as he was clearly the hottest player in 2004 on clay and expected to win over his foe. In Viña del Mar Coria won a close match they were giving each other some verbal shots. Gaudio got the revenge in Buenos Aires he unfurled an Independiente flag (the football team he passionately supports) and jogged towards Esteban Cambiasso, the team’s star who was celebrating Gaudio’s triumph. Coria swears that, while Gaudio was going towards Cambiasso, he “hit” him in the face with part of the flag.
While these were tasty the best one was in Hamburg 2003 where they played the semi final Coria won the 1st set, then Gaudio won the 2nd set. Coria then called for the trainer claiming he was cramping, he got treatment and afterwards was running around faster than he did before. It was a brilliant con job which Gaudio lost concentration losing the last 6-0. After the match they had to be separated as to whether Gaudio hit him as was allegedly claimed. The best answer for his was when Gaudio’s friend Lucho Horna who played Coria after the incident when Coria was whining he said “ shut up, I’m not Gaudio I will hit you”.
With all this bad blood before the final which both of them wanted to win so badly impacted negatively on the match itself, Gaudio was so nervous could hardly get the ball in court for 2 sets. Coria was very comfortable cruising along, then the French crowd were bored started doing the wave which relaxed Gaudio who started playing better. One moment when Gaudio hit a dropshot which Coria couldn’t quite make he pulled up short at 4-4 in the 3rd, this was when the fun started. After 90 minutes Coria cramps gets treated for it, definitely not due to lack of fitness more like anxiety and pressure.
Coria vs. Gaudio
Gaudio plays better wins the next 2 sets against a guy who can’t move. The 5th set was one of the most ridiculous, bizarre and crazy things to happen on a tennis court. Gaudio so nervous can’t hit the ball into court against a guy who at times can’t run, then explode with others. Coria has 2 match points gets tight, then the moment came 7-6 15-40 on Coria’s serve, Gaudio drills a backhand winner and the moment where his dream became reality. The Paris crowd loved the celebration high fiving the spectators, it was a popular win one because he was a huge underdog, two Coria wasn’t universally liked by his peers because of his sneaky weasel like antics. He was unable to complete his speech at the presentation breaking down in tears, it didn’t help that the father of Argentine tennis Guillermo Vilas was there to present the trophies.
Gaudio and Coria will always be linked together through this bizarre match, the mutual loathing they had even the fact that Franco Davin had been Coria’s coach previously. Coria was expected to win Roland Garros but never did, yet there is a delicious irony that Gaudio who choked many matches was able to come back from 2 sets down and 2 match points to win Roland Garros. He was never expected to win one, Coria and Nalbandian were meant to be the Slam winners, it’s good to upset the conventions in cases like this.
Gaudio had a good 2005 winning 5 titles all on clay, his Roland Garros defence ended in the 4th round against David Ferrer. He was leading 4-0 in the 5th set, yet got upset and said to Javi Piles the coach of Ferrer “ Don’t worry I’m not going to win today”. He was due to play Nadal if he won that match, if the good Gaudio showed up then perhaps a fun match but that’s in the land of “what if”. Though earlier in the year he managed to beat Nadal 0-6 6-0 6-1 in Buenos Aires, the crowd decided to welcome Nadal to the big leagues.
The beginning of the end
This was start of the decline of Gaudio’s career 2004 and 2005 were big seasons winning and playing a lot more matches, it was natural that a letdown was going to occur. There were more injuries as well, once his ranking fell down into the hundreds, he ended up playing challengers plus the odd main tour event. There were still glimpses of the talent at 2007 Roland Garros had Hewitt 2 sets up, but lacked the match practice combined with the frail nerve cost him. He last two titles were at Challenger level in Tunis and San Remo it was good that he wasn’t so proud that he wouldn’t go down to Challengers couldn’t imagine too many other Grand Slam champions doing this, well Agassi did it.
- Those speaking of you and not knowing a tiny thing of tennis begin make up stories about you. A pile of things change that you would have liked not to change. But guess what? I won Roland Garros (hahahaha, laughing with his eyes shining)... and what I like is that it bothers some people but it's my achievement and it only has to make me and my people happy.
- On playing Nalbandian at RG. “They’re (Nalbandian and Kuerten) the Galacticos (Real Madrid) and I’m the Valencia. They have a special talent and in the top 10.”
Q. You mentioned Valencia. They have two titles.
GASTON GAUDIO: I'm just asking for one title, not two.
- Q. The foot faults, we’ve got to ask you a bit about the foot faults. There were a few of them. They were annoying weren’t they?
(Gaudio) It is, but it’s fun for the crowd.
(Gaudio) Maybe I should move the line a little bit forward.
Q. Or maybe you should move your foot a little bit back?
(Gaudio) I’m going to try with that one. I never thought about that one before.
Gaston Gaudio didn’t leave tennis fans indifferent, at times the skill level was brilliant and breathtaking, at others it wouldn’t be acceptable for Under 13 Division C tournament in Tierra del Fuego. For those who wanted lessons in Argentine Spanish in how to curse then Gaudio was a perfect teacher, while he was embarrassed with some of the stuff that came out of his mouth. Yet, he is very quietly spoken in interviews when decides to give them.
Mariano Zabaleta, Gaston Gaudio and Luis Horna all retired now
There are players who have won more titles, have more money and fangirls but Gaudio was very much like his idol Menotti it wasn’t about winning say like Bilardo, he had to win well or in style, if he didn’t that would irritate him. He knew that himself, people either liked him or hated him, after he won Roland Garros the same people that wanted to piss on him would be the first to perform oral sex acts if they could.
Hope he can enjoy watching Independiente, hanging out with Mariano Zabaleta, spending time with the friends and family, Bariloche in the winter, his apartment in Miami and the bars of Palermo (not the Sicilian city) . There was no fanfare with the statement, it was sensibly done in the manner “I wanted to make sure that I didn’t want to come back, so I took my time with it”.
Personally I’m not a fan of cats, but I loved “El Gato”’s tennis even in the bad moments like Malaga which made the Roland Garros win so special as it came out of nowhere and all the sweeter for it.
Thanks very much for reading this very long post, wasn’t easy to write but every chapter has to have a beginning and end.