October 3, 2020
Caroline Garcia and Hugo Gaston had the fans in raptures with their inspirational displays at Roland Garros.
They sparked a wonderful assault on the senses. The soundtrack to tennis has returned.
There were memorable scenes on the show- courts as our sport enjoyed its noisiest few hours for many months.
To have one patriotic eruption on what can only be called French Friday was amazing.
To have more riotous scenes, prompted by another home-grown player’s heroics on the very same day, was truly extraordinary.
Allez la France! C’est magnifique!
First Garcia raised the roof on the Court Philippe Chatrier in a dramatic clash with sixteenth seed Elise Mertens.
The French fighter had reached the quarter-finals here in 2017 and then Wimbledon’s fourth round in that same summer.
She was also unbeaten against the Belgian and no stranger to a big-time atmosphere.
So you would have thought those experiences might have helped to calm her with victory in sight.
Not a bit of it. One match point after another went begging as the raucous crowd gasped and shrieked and then gasped once more.
How they had cheered as Garcia’s spectacular strokeplay brought her to the verge of victory.
Could she hold her nerve and finally convert one of her chances, having done the hardest part by turning the tide?
After being blasted off court in the first set, Garcia’s spirited fightback had captured everyone’s imagination. She hit a total of 38 winners.
The level of tennis was frightening. The outcome uncertain. It was everything a Parisian thriller should be.
The audience demanded a fitting climax. And yet…
Garcia just couldn’t get over the line. The dramatic tension could hardly have been greater.
She served for the match and stood just a point from victory, only for a defiant Mertens to draw level in style.
More superhuman efforts saw Garcia break once more. Deja vu as she served for glory.
Five match points came and went in all. Still she couldn’t complete the dream. How was she holding herself together?
Somehow the crowd kept her from derailing completely. They demanded a satisfying denouement. Finally they got one.
An ace brought up a sixth opportunity. This time Mertens crumbled.
Cue a cacophony of sound. Sheer joy on Chatrier.
‘It was a great feeling out there, especially after such a big fight in the second and third,’ admitted a relieved Garcia.
Now she faces third seed Elina Svitolina, whose boyfriend is the popular French star Gael Monfils.
Svitolina beat Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-4, 7-5. But she won’t have the French crowd’s support next time out. They’ll still be sweet on Caroline.
We had scarcely drawn breath when the great Stan Wawrinka took to Court Suzanne Lenglen to do battle with French wild-card Hugo Gaston.
A forgone conclusion, surely? Wawrinka, a former French Open champion, against an unknown, ranked 239 in the world.
Gaston, only 20 and 5ft 8ins, his finest achievement before this tournament a first-round spot at the Australian Open.
But something strange and wonderful hung in the air at Roland Garros. The hint of another upset.
Once again the home-grown underdog was outclassed in the first set. Once more we witnessed a rousing comeback as the French fans went crazy.
Wawrinka tried hard to regain control on his favourite clay. But by the fifth set, the much-loved Swiss had nothing left to give.
He succumbed to the will of the crowd as Gaston romped to a highly unlikely 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0 victory.
Somehow those spectators have never sounded louder. The shocking delight of this win was exceptional. Gaston struggled to take it all in.
The £170,000 prize money was more than he had earned in his entire career so far. But it wasn’t about money.
‘This is a dream,’ Gaston said. ‘It’s difficult to explain. It’s fantastic.
‘Before I was always watching on TV. Today I got to play and it’s amazing for me.’
It was an amazing day for everyone. And you can just imagine how loud the crowd will be when Gaston wins his first point against Dominic Thiem in the next round.
How many points Gaston will actually amass against the US Open champion and former French Open finalist is open to question.
Thiem beat Casper Ruud 6-4, 6-3, 6-1. He doesn’t look ready to bow out any time soon.
If Hugo can pull off another giant-killing, then the big bang we heard in Paris, when that plane broke the sound barrier earlier this week, will be nothing in comparison to the noise of celebrating fans.
This is Grand Slam tennis. Back to its best with crowds fully engaged. This is why we can’t wait for Wimbledon 2021.
Anything Andy Murray can achieve at this stage of his career will bring similar levels of British cheer on Centre Court.
But for now let’s salute the French players and what they did on a truly unforgettable Friday in Paris.
Garcia and Gaston. Incroyable.