© Patrice Lapointe/Tennis Canada

Richard Gasquet celebrates a thrilling final-set tie-break victory against Kei Nishikori in Montreal.

Why Gasquet Is Taking His Recovery Step-By-Step

The Frenchman will face Bautista Agut in the third round of the Coupe Rogers

It has not been the easiest season for former World No. 7 Richard Gasquet. Most people are used to watching the Frenchman use the tennis court as his canvas, painting magical strokes off both wings from the baseline, especially with his elegant one-handed backhand. But it’s difficult to do that when you’re recovering from an injury.

On 18 January, Gasquet was forced to undergo groin surgery, an operation that kept him out for six months. It’s not the first time the Frenchman has struggled with his body, needing to withdraw from the first five ATP Masters 1000 tournaments of 2017. But this time, Gasquet was out for a significant period of time, causing his ATP Ranking to last month drop outside the Top 50 for the first time since May 2010.

For players who have achieved what Gasquet has — winning more than 500 tour-level matches in his career, cracking the Top 10, and more — it may be difficult to find the motivation to work back towards the top again. But not for Gasquet.

“You have no choice. I like to play tennis. I enjoy it a lot,” Gasquet told ATPTour.com. “Of course surgery was tough, especially after that to recover was very difficult. But I still like tennis, I still like to travel and play on great courts. I’m 33, I don’t have so many years to play now, so I have to enjoy it.”

Gasquet made his return at the Mutua Madrid Open in May, but his best result since was making the Libema Open semi-finals. He knew that it would take time to work back into form, though.

“I stopped for a long time, six months. It was very difficult, I know this. But after surgery, physically you need to build day after day,” Gasquet said. “But I’m feeling better, I played in July on clay. So physically, I’m better. I won on Monday against Paire. It was a good match, so that’s why I felt more confident after that and of course I played a great match today.”

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Gasquet needed all the energy and form he could find to upset fifth seed Kei Nishikori 6-7(6), 6-2, 7-6(4) on Wednesday at the Coupe Rogers in Montreal, overcoming a tough opponent, as well as himself. It seemed that everything that could go wrong towards the end of the match was going wrong.

The Frenchman served at 5-4 in the third set for a victory against Nishikori. In the next game, on the Japanese superstar’s serve, Gasquet could not convert any of the three break chances he earned. At 5-6, the 33-year-old made some mistakes to let slip a 0/40 lead, needing a big serve out wide to save a match point. Then in the tie-break, he gave up a double mini-break advantage.

But finally, after three hours and nine minutes, the one thing that the 15-time ATP Tour titlist needed to go right went perfectly: Gasquet won, blasting his one-handed backhand down the line for a winner and throwing his fist in the air in celebration.

“It was a crazy match, of course, especially when I was winning 5-4 with the break and I couldn’t serve it out, he played well. It was tough,” Gasquet said. “It was really, really close, especially in the tie-break. But I’m very happy with the way I fought, with the way physically I played. So it was a great victory. Kei is one of the best players in the world, so of course it’s huge for me to win.”

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If there was any player Gasquet would flounder against in a decider, it would be Nishikori, who is the Open Era leader in final sets won at 74.6 per cent entering this week. But the World No. 66 is not ready to stop building on his game.

“I think I can still improve. But today was the first match I felt good on the court [since my surgery]. That’s why I could win,” Gasquet said. “To beat Kei you need to play great tennis and I did it. Of course I hope to recover now. The day after it will be tough, but I’ll try my best.”

The climb won’t be easy for Gasquet, nor will his next opponent, Roberto Bautista Agut. But the player with 33 Top 100 triumphs will hope for another energetic crowd in Montreal for his third-round match.

“It’s a great feeling that you can still play well and to come battle, fight with these kinds of players. That’s why I’m still practising, it’s still a game for me,” Gasquet said. “It’s difficult, very demanding, but I still like it.”