Thursday, June 05, 2014

Remembering Gaston Gaudio "Que mal la estoy pasando''

Gaston with first coach Roberto Carruthers

It was 10 years ago when one of the most bizarre grand slams finals that ever took place where the talented but mentally tortured Gaston Gaudio defeated the overwhelming favourite and nemesis Guillermo Coria in a final that’ll never be forgotten. This won’t necessarily be for tennis reasons.

2004 was meant to be the year for Guillermo Coria to win Roland Garros. He had been the dominant player all season. Yes, he had weasel like tendencies on court, but his understanding of clay court tennis with the angles, movement and cunning to make up for the lack of firepower were second to none. He was supposed to make the 2003 final but a certain non flying Dutchman Martin Verkerk was serving out of the tree high on life, tanning the lines for fun on the groundstrokes ended that dream in the semi finals.

Gaudio had come a long way from the awful second part of 2003 that he had. There was the famous incident with Coria in TMS Hamburg where this event had 4 Argentines in the semi finals. In their semi they split the first two sets, then Coria showing his cunning decided to take an injury timeout after the 2nd set to break the momentum. This move worked perfectly as Coria was moving even better in the final set and Gaudio lost the plot. The handshake was very cold and they had to be separated in the locker room afterwards. Luis Horna when he played Coria & “The Weasel” tried the same tactics said “shut up I’m not Gaudio I will hit you”.

Coria vs. Gaudio Hamburg

Davis Cup was where Gaudio hit his lowest point hideously out of form but since Nalbandian & Coria withdrew from the tie. 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. Gaudio had to come back and play Moya in the live 5th match where he was just existing on court. When he came back home, he was savaged by the press, jeered and copped abuse on the streets for that display.


During the 2004 clay season there were some signs of improvement but nothing to indicate that he was a title contender. In Monte Carlo he was toying with Hewitt 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". It worked out in the end Robredo got his Barcelona title but Gaudio has a Barcelona and Roland Garros title.

Animated Gaston

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.

Roland Garros

As an unseeded player Gaudio didn’t have the draw totally open up for him. In the 1st round he played Guillermo Cañas in the Independiente derby that went the distance, though thankfully it was suspended that they only needed to come back for the 5th set. Later in the year at Stuttgart Cañas beat Gaudio in 5, that’s the one tournament couldn’t win. He so wanted to win the Mercedes.

Gaudio had a very poor 5th set record in fact he won most of his 5 setters in Paris, he defeated the seeded “Cheery” Jiri Novak in another 5 set match. The next two rounds against Thomas Enqvist and Igor Andreev were comfortable.

Hewitt & Nalbandian

The quarter final with Hewitt was just a brilliant performance from Gaudio. There aren’t many matches where he was happy with how he played apart from Barcelona 2002 which he won without dropping a set. In this match Gaudio hardly made an unforced error just owning Hewitt with the backhand in the rallies, great touch as well. There were no shenangians or nonsense about how bad he was missing 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 stuck in him as he was done.

Gaudio vs. Coria Final Battle

There are just some things that don’t go together. Fish and milk, steak and ice cream, pineapple on pizza, altitude sickness in the Netherlands. Just like these things Gaudio and Coria were never meant to get along.

Coria was the kid who was bred to play tennis, whereas Gaudio played football & rugby as well as tennis, but chose to play tennis as a way to help his family out financially. 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, 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. Gaudio's coach at the time was Franco Davin, who used to previously coached Coria, this plus the previously mentioned Hamburg incident added more tension to a match where someone would win their first Slam.

With all this bad blood before the final, adding the extra dimension which impacted negatively on the quality of the match but the drama and ridiculousness was amplified instead. In the first 2 sets there was a guy that looked like Gaudio on court, but was doing everything but hitting the ball into court. Coria was cruising along he’d have broken more of a sweat during a training session.

The French crowd were bored at the lack of tennis on the show, so they decided to amuse themselves by doing the wave. Yes, it was that kind of match that the wave ended up turning this match around. Gaudio joins in the wave and after that he relaxes starting to play better. Little did we know that a dropshot Gaudio hit at 4-4 in the 3rd was the twist that confirmed that this match went into the realms of the bizarre.

Coria pulls up short and then starts clutching at his legs. After 90 minutes of toying with Gaudio he cramps up badly this was due to anxiety and pressure, as any doctor who says cramp in an injury would be struck off the medical register. Gaudio breaks takes the 3rd set and starts playing freely in the 4th set with Coria not even bothering to move to any shots outside of the strike zone.

Turning Point

We’re down to the 5th set and someone who has seen plenty of antics & meltdowns by Gaudio. This 5th set was one of the most ridiculous, bizarre and crazy things to happen on a tennis court. It dawns on Gaudio that he is so close to the prize that he can actually win but he is as tight as bands that they’ve played every day for 50 years. He forgot what he was doing in the 4th set against an opponent who is famous for his trickery on court and with the mind games.

Coria at times couldn’t move at all, yet other times he was explosive. They were trading breaks for fun with Coria footfaulting to such a degree his back foot was in front of the service line. Gaudio was muscling the ball instead of hitting it, someone has to win this match but both are doing everything they can not to. Both guys so paralysed with nerves at what they are about to achieve. Coria manages to get 2 match points, but gets tight and fails to convert.

Eventually someone had to step up with Gaudio leading 7-6 15-40 on Coria’s serve. Gaudio steps up and drills a backhand winner where his dream became a reality and Coria’s nightmare seeing he was so close to the prize he wanted so much. The one he was groomed for, the redemption after the drug ban which was proven that there was no intention to dope.

Match point from 3.57

The handshake

Gaudio threw the racquet in and the Parisians loved the celebration where he high fived the spectators. There were so many odd things about this triumph, the guy who was known for this talent but mentally brittle as egg shells managed to come back 2 sets down to win the biggest match of his career. This was also Gaudio’s worst match of the tournament but as the old saying goes. Thanks to Josh for these stats on Gaudio in the final 9 double faults, 55 unforced errors (-19 plus/minus), 23 break points faced easily his worst match tennis wise but “’you only need to better than your opponent on the day’’.

This match with all the background wasn’t just about the tennis, there were many factors at play that lead to one of the most memorable matches that I’ve seen and not for tennis reasons. It was a popular triumph as one Gaudio was a massive underdog who didn’t believe in himself, he knew he wasn’t as good as Nalbandian and Coria but managed to defeat both of them. For all of Coria’s talent on the tennis court he wasn’t universally liked mainly because of his antics. He couldn’t finish the speech at the presentation as he broke down in tears in front of the father of Argentine tennis Guillermo Vilas who was there to present the trophies.


Gaudio still loves Independiente, as an Independiente man there are two schools of thought in Argentine sport. The Menotti school which isn't only about winning, it's about winning and playing well and Bilardo school only about the result. Gauio is a devotee of the Menotti school, which contributed to his tortured soul on court.

He's making an appearance at the Roland Garros legends doubles. He entertained, he infuriated, danced to his own tune but that day in June 2004 is one that will never be forgotten in Roland Garros history. It was an unconventional final for a very different and entertaining individual who provided many happy memories for tennis fans.


Martine said...

Thanks for the great read, Nils!
It felt real good enjoying the sweet memories of Gaudio's most succesfull Roland Garros.
It was full of emotions and the way you write about it is perfect.
And as always with a great amount of humour ;)



Denys said...

That was a very special day and strange one at the same time. I will never forget Gaudio's win and tough run that he had to win the title.

The background information was comprehensive and enjoyable read.

Joana said...

Ahh, I remember it very well! Great article presenting the background to that unforgetable final that had me exhausted in the end. This is one of the reasons I love sports: sometimes it's not the most talented, or experienced, or expected player that wins...and it's fantastic to be able to witness the victory of an underdog.

Samuca said...

Thank you so much for this piece! I really enjoyed it!