He is not tall, but he is valiant. From the height of his meter 73, Hugo Gaston placed himself above the fray of French men’s tennis in this 2020 edition of Roland-Garros. He, who celebrated his 20th birthday the day before the tournament was launched, certainly saw this invitation to play in the large table as a magnificent birthday present. So, he thanked the organizers and the national technical direction (DTN) in his own way by going for a third round from his first participation in the Parisian Major, offering himself in passing the 52nd world player Yoshihito Nishioka (6-4, 7- 6, 3-6, 6-2).
A sacred performance that takes on a special dimension in the surrounding tricolor slump. Of the 18 Frenchmen on the starting line of this single gentlemen, Gaston is thus the only one still in the race, him the modest 239th player in the world (223rd at best last March). Obviously, all eyes are now on the survivor of this collective shipwreck. “I’m not going to put extra pressure on myself because I’m the last French. I try to focus on what I can and know how to do. Of course it would have been better if we had been more, but it’s part of the game“, he blurted out, philosopher, in front of the press.
No victory on the circuit before Roland
It must be said that a sacred challenge awaits him. For a place in the second week, Stan Wawrinka, winner of Roland five years ago, just that, will be offered to him. In what state of nerves will he approach this capital meeting? Only the event itself will reveal it. But the person assures him, he will not enter the court to take pictures. “I try to take advantage, to give it my all, and if I have the opportunity to win, I will try to take it. I’m still pretty cool and pretty distant. I know it’s going to be a tough game. Stan is a great player, a great champion. I have a lot of respect for him. But when I get back on the pitch, I’ll do everything to win“, he confides with disarming calm.
However, Gaston would have every reason in the world to ignite. Before this Roland-Garros, the resident of the Tennis Club of Blagnac in the southwest of France did not count the slightest victory on the ATP circuit. In the company of his trainer Marc Barbier, he has been scouring the Challengers for a few months, with the benchmark result for the moment being a semi-final in Bergamo last February. It was also at the beginning of 2020 that the native of Toulouse had his baptism in Grand Slam: an honorable defeat in the first round in Melbourne against Jaume Munar (7-5, 5-7, 6-0, 6-3) .
“I don’t have the template to make 3 aces per game”
At the time, he hadn’t gone the distance physically. Eight months later, it is clear that the left-hander has made progress, he who can say that he gleaned his first successes in the elite of world tennis on the format of the three winning sets. If playing at home inevitably helped Gaston to transcend himself – he greeted the encouragement of the few spectators present on court number 5 during his second round – his good career is perhaps also the sign of a above average adaptability.
If some regretted the absence of the public or the playing conditions made difficult by the weather and the weight of the new balls, the former world junior number 2 found his pleasure. Because for years, he has been able to face adversity. Eliminated from the INSEP probably due to certain physical limitations (he measures 1.73 m and weighs 68 kilos), he could not count on a natural power to make the difference early in the exchange. “I don’t have the template to make 3 aces per game, so I have to find solutions. With Nishioka, we had a bit of the same style of play, so obviously, it was a good match, there were good points.“, he emphasizes.
Gaston or the praise of adaptation
Cushioned, forehand slices, rounded balls, changes in rhythm, spin and trajectory, Gaston can do it all with a tennis racket. But having too many options in your arsenal is sometimes tricky to manage. And it is in this area that he has made his most glaring progress: he remained lucid under pressure, like his match point against Nishioka. Surprised that the opposing backhand caught the outside of the line during the exchange, he did not demobilize so far and ended with a superb crossover passing. “I managed to make the right choices in general. I still have a lot of room for improvement, so it’s interesting. On all strokes of tennis in general, same physical and mental level. “
In these areas, he did not choose the worst inspiration: Gaston has the eyes of Chimene for another left-hander, Rafael Nadal. “Even if we don’t have the same style of play, in everything that is attitude, I try to take his example“, indicates the one who dreams of one day lifting the Coupe des Mousquetaires as his idol. Next goal for the ambitious and relaxed Gaston? Enter the top 100 as quickly as possible. Two years after winning the Youth Olympic Games ( he was also standard bearer), Gaston entered the big league at Roland. Friday, let’s hope that the court and the opponent are not too bad so that he can benefit from his great adventure to the end.