Barclays ATP World Tour Finals The O2, London | NOV 13-20
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2014 Result

Grown-up Prodigy

Richard Gasquet's talent has never been in any doubt. And now, as Alexandra Willis of writes, the Frenchman is as mentally and physically robust as he has ever been.

It must be very strange to be thought of as preposterously talented but ultimately unfulfilled. Enter Richard Gasquet, who, aged nine, was announced to the French public as "the champion that France is waiting for". Left foot forward, right arm raised behind his head, ready to unfurl his iconic single-handed backhand, the curly-haired youngster from Beziers who adorned the cover of the French magazine Tennis is unmistakable from the 27 year old who lets rip with the same shot on tennis courts around the world today.

With such high expectations placed on him, it is perhaps no surprise that it has taken a while to realise his potential. Before and during his teenage years, Gasquet was regarded as a prodigy, and was spoken of as the Mozart of French tennis. And yet it is probably only now, with Gasquet competing here at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals for the second time - his first appearance was in 2007 - that he is truly making the most of his talent.

And what talent, with shot-making ability in every pore. No one hits a backhand more elegantly than Gasquet does. Sit in The O2 watching the Frenchman play, and you will overhear other spectators talking about his backhand with the same wonder and awe in their voices as you would expect from an art-lover standing before a Monet. As Gasquet has said, "the French way is to play beautiful strokes with style, and I'm a product of that philosophy". There are plenty on this side of the Channel who admire the way that Gasquet plays on that wing (and it's not as if his forehand, or any other part of his game, could ever be described as ugly or functional).

And yet, as Gasquet knows full well, there is more to tennis than playing pretty groundstrokes, there being no bonus points available for grace and style. Gasquet is never going to take the Brad Gilbert approach of 'winning ugly', but he has come to recognise that you don't get anywhere in this sport on talent alone. You also need mental and physical strength.

Gasquet, who is coached by Italian Riccardo Piatti and Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean, has dedicated himself to his fitness work like never before - he has admitted that he neglected that after first breaking through. Last year, for the first time since 2007, he finished a season in the Top 10, and then in September this season he was rewarded with a first Grand Slam semi-final for six years, which he lost to Rafael Nadal. His achievement in reaching the US Open's last four was all the more remarkable because he had out-ground David Ferrer over five sets to do so, about as un-Gasquet-like an achievement as you could imagine. Not only that, he had played a five-set match, saving a match point in the process, to beat Milos Raonic in the previous round. The French sports newspaper, L'Equipe, said this of Gasquet in New York: "Gasquet long ago got older without growing up. During this US Open, he has become an adult." Grosjean agreed, saying that Gasquet has "grown up, and feels comfortable with himself".

Piatti felt as though he has helped Gasquet to become tougher mentally. "Sometimes during matches, he finds some excuses for losing. I said to him recently to stop doing this, and I explained to him three or four matches where he was losing that way," Piatti told the New York Times. "Before he played Ferrer at the US Open, he kept telling me, 'I'm tired, tired, tired'. I said: 'You are tired like everybody. You are not coming from St Tropez. You are coming from the first week of a slam, and if you continue to find that excuse for losing, you are going to lose'."

When the year began, Gasquet was very clear in his mind that he wanted to qualify for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. And the 2013 season started well for Gasquet, with a title during the first week in Doha, and then a second tournament victory in Montpellier in February. Another highlight in the first few months of the year was making the semi-finals of the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Miami, while, after the US Open, he went deep into a couple tournaments during the autumnal Asian swing, making the semi-finals in Bangkok and Beijing. This season has been a great leap forward for Gasquet.

A few years ago, Gasquet, a former junior world No 1, established a foundation "which aims to help adolescents who struggle to find their place in society and who suffer from a lack of confidence - it will use sport as a way to bring underprivileged youths back to health and enable them to rediscover the joys of life, and as a way to build the future". Gasquet is doing good work on and off the court. He's here in London, and he deserves to be. Enjoy his backhand.

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