Patrick Mouratoglou

How do you solve problems like Tsonga and Gasquet?

Patrick Mouratoglou

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Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet

France's top two players, Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, haven't done very well during the first three months of the season. What can we expect for them in 2014?

For Tsonga, it feels like the same story as 2013. He hasn’t been well since last summer, and though I might be wrong, it also feels like he believes less in himself, as if his goals seem less high than they once were. I say that because I don't see the old Tsonga in him any more, the young player who clearly felt very strong, who saw himself doing great things in Grand Slams, and wasn’t afraid to say it.

His capacity to believe in himself has always been one of his main assets. It often helped him to win many matches, because he felt superior to his opponent and refused to lose.

But as this year has started out, he seems a little more timid than he used to. He is still trying to find himself, and lacks of confidence. It’s not good news for him: and at the same time as he's been struggling, the world's top eight has become very tight, and reached a very high level.

For Tsonga at the moment, even getting back into the top 10 seems to be getting farther away, and his will power is dwindling. It's as if he is waiting for everything to fall into place; he and his coaches have been talking that way since January. He is clinging to hope that future victories will help him gain confidence, and kick-start his season. But right now we have to admit that his hopes of winning a Grand Slam tournament - which was his goal in 2013 - seems very distant.

The clay season is coming, and it’s not his best surface since his main weapon - his serve - is slowed down. His opponents can reach his backhand more easily, and in any case it doesn’t really seem reliable right now.

The big thing is that he mustn’t get into a downwards spiral of defeats, or the gap between ranked him and the guys above him - Berdych, Isner, Raonic - will just get wider. He needs time to get back on track, but the main question is, how long?

As for Gasquet, who clearly hit a new high in Grand Slams last year, I’m afraid he is still recovering from being dumped by coach Riccardo Piatti. Unlike Tsonga, his 2014 season hasn't followed the pattern of his 2013 season so far; his only achievement of any note has been reaching the final in Montpellier, where he lost against Gael Monfils. And I think his problems stem from the change to his team.

The three-way set-up with Piatti and Sebastien Grosjean worked really well; Piatti had created something that produced results, seeing him gain confidence in his ability, and more stability. And Gasquet really wasn’t expecting to see Piatti leave to join Raonic at the end of the season.

It must have been hard from a personal point of view, and maybe he even saw it as a form of betrayal. Gasquet also has technical problems, despite Grosjean trying to continue Piatti’s methods, but at least he has some continuity.

He has a new coach in his corner as well: Sergi Bruguera. Richard needs two people to work with, as Sébastien can’t follow him during the entire season, and the choice of the Spanish former player seems to sit well with the Frenchman’s goals: to win big tournaments, have a good clay season, and go as far as possible at the French Open.

We don’t know if this collaboration will bear fruit, but they will need time to see if it works out. I think it’s the first time that Bruguera has taken care of a player like Richard. He has been putting a lot of work into his tennis academy since he stopped playing, but I haven’t seen him yet on the ATP Tour since.

On paper, it seems to be a risky bet since Bruguera hasn’t much experience in coaching, but let’s hope that it will bring results soon, as time is key in tennis. If they run into defeat after defeat, it'll break their spirit, and Gasquet will take longer to get back on track. It would indeed be a shame if he failed to push on after the huge strides he made last year.

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