Richard Gasquet celebrates his win in the final of the ASB Classic. Photo / Dean Purcell.
Frenchman Richard Gasquet has managed the ultimate Cinderella story, with a remarkable victory to claim the 2023 ASB Classic over local favorite Cameron Norrie.
The 36-year-old came back from a set down – then retrieved a significant deficit in the final set – to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.
It was an engrossing decider, only the sixth to go the distance in the past 20 years. Both players played some sublime tennis, with Gasquet’s experience making the difference in an extremely tight match over almost two and a half hours.
Gasquet has enjoyed a dream run on his first visit to Auckland, after 20 years on the ATP tour.
It’s his first title since 2018 and the 16th of his career, while he also becomes the oldest men’s ASB Classic winner in tournament history, superseding 1959 champion Jeff Robson (32).
Defeat will be tough to take for Aucklander Norrie, after also losing the 2019 decider. He was looking for his fifth career title in his 12th final.
Unlike then, he was favorite in this contest, as world No 12 and on a hot run to start the year.
He made a confident start, dominant in the first set, before Gasquet found a way back in a tight second set.
The third set was the best of the match, as the tension and quality reached new levels. Norrie was a break up and serving at 4-2, before everything unraveled.
It wasn’t that Norrie played badly, but more that world No 67 Gasquet – who has played almost 1000 tour matches – went to a new level, hitting winners with impunity, which gradually increased the pressure on Norrie’s serve.
Under welcome sunny skies, Norrie started well. He was determined to extend the rallies, pushing the Frenchman to play one more shot. Both looked advanced to the net early, among some entertaining rallies, with Norrie producing a squash-style shot down the line.
After games went with serve, Norrie gained the edge in the fourth game, pushing Gasquet to 15-40 then producing a delightful, feathered backhand to convert the break.
Norrie then seemed to take control, pushing the Frenchman further back in the court and producing errors. But there was another twist, as Gasquet produced some inspired tennis, to leave Norrie 0-40 down at 5-3, including one of the rallies of the match, finished by a perfect drop shot. Norrie defended two break opportunities but miscued a forehand on the third.
It was a blow, but Norrie has shown great mental resilience this week and exhibited it again, immediately putting the blowtorch back on Gasquet, as some clutch volleys produced two set points. A big serve saved the first, before Gasquet sent a forehand long, to seal the set in 42 minutes.
But just as everything was going to plan, Gasquet found another level, increasing his aggression, especially off the backhand, while Norrie got a bit loose. The Frenchman had improved towards the end of the first bracket and continued that trajectory. That enabled a break at 2-2, and a path back into the contest. Gasquet was firing – hitting lines with some superb shots – to alter the complexion of the contest.
Norrie had to dig deep at 3-5 down, saving a set point with a brave charge to the net off a second serve, followed by a remarkable rally at deuce. But it was a brief reprieve, as Gasquet held with ease to level the match.
After both players took a bathroom break to gather their thoughts, Norrie initially emerged stronger to start the third set, back in the groove immediately to break Gasquet in the second game.
It remained in the balance though. Norrie fought to hold at 3-1, then was broken at 4-2, as his serving radar deserted him. At 4-3, the eighth game was an epic, with Gasquet fending off a break and finally prevailing after 12 points of high tension.
That was a turning point. Gasquet had started to dominate the match with his backhand, while Norrie began to tighten.
He was broken again at 4-4 – thanks to an immaculate Gasquet forehand – before the Frenchman held his nerve to finish the job, converting his first match point.