Jan/19

28

The Smile That Won a Grand Slam Title

Gaston Gaudio RG 2005.jpg

 

By Scoop Malinowski

The 44th ranked player in the world was tight as a drum. Playing in his first Grand Slam final, Gaston Gaudio was, in all honesty, getting killed by the world no. 3 Guillermo Coria. Down 06 36 and 34, Gaudio appeared headed to an abysmal straight set failure.

But then something unbelievable happened. NBC resumed coverage after the commercial break with Gaudio ready to serve down 34 in the third. But the Chatrier Stadium court crowd wasn’t ready to let the dull, one-sided match end. They were bored and took matters into their own hands. NBC resumed and showed viewers the stadium was doing ‘the wave’, with fans standing up when it was their time, to simulate an ocean wave. For the first time of the day the crowd began to have some fun, the match had been that uneventful. They kept on doing it, over and over, round and round they went.

Even Gaudio, 25, was impressed. He looked around in wonder and began to smile for the first time that day. A big flashing smile. He had finally loosened up, thanks to seeing the wave flow around him. Suddenly the wave of the crowd actually penetrated the rhythm and soul of the match. Appearing as dead as a zombie, Gaudio gained new life and inspiration and he somehow managed to raise his level of play. Then he even stole the third set 64.

This was the fifth meeting between the two rivals. The four years younger Coria had won three of the previous four duels, including a 63 67 60 verdict the year before in the semifinal of Hamburg (2003). In that match Gaudio accused Coria of faking an injury and they reportedly nearly had a fight after the match inside the locker room.

It appears Coria tried to psyche out Gaudio again with another alleged fake injury ploy after losing the third set. In the fourth set, Coria acted as if he had hurt his leg and pretended to be hobbled for the entire fourth set, which he lost 16. The final was now deadlocked at two sets and it would come down to a deciding fifth.

Miraculously or by design, Coria’s injury vanished at the start of the fifth set. He began to try hard again. He expected to roll over Gaudio in the fifth set – just as he had in Hamburg – after basically throwing away a set. Coria was that overconfident and arrogant. It would be his undoing.

Coria miscalculated. He did not expect Gaudio to raise his level and hold his nerve under his A game onslaught in the fifth set. Gaudio began to play the best tennis of his career and the two Argentines battled to 4-4 and 5-5 in the fifth. Coria even had a match point but Gaudio saved it. Gaudio would finally win 86 in the fifth.

John McEnroe, calling the match for NBC, described it as one of the most magical moments he’d ever seen in tennis. Gaudio became the fifth-lowest-ranked player to win a Grand Slam, and the first man in the open era to win a Grand Slam having saved match points in the final. Gaudio is also the first man to win a Grand Slam after losing the first set by bagel.

For the rest of his career, Gaudio never reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal again.

It was a miracle fortnight for Gaudio, as he won successive five setters in the first two rounds against Guillermo Canas and Jiri Novak. After the turbulent start, Gaudio rolled to the final, losing only one set in four wins vs Thomas Enqvist, Igor Andreev, Lleyton Hewitt, David Nalbandian.

In the historic final against the pre-tournament favorite Coria, Gaudio saved his finest magic.

And it was all sparked, at least according to my senses, by a simple smile from watching the crowd perform ‘the wave.’

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1 comment

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 1, 2019 at 9:44 am

    This was one of the most incredible amazing GS finals I’ve ever seen. Gaudio was dead. But the crowd miraculously brought him back to life in the third set. Gaudio responded with the best tennis of his life. McEnroe called it the most magical match he’d seen. Then Gaudio punched McEnroe in the locker room after, according to Marcelo Rios who revealed this bombshell in November. Gaudio took offense to some disrespectful comments McEnroe had made about him on the air. I remember Patrick McEnroe called Gaudio “soft” once on ESPN. But this was a special match, very interesting, but heartbreaking for Coria, he blew his one and only major, it was in his pocket but he managed to lose it.

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