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Richard Gasquet, Grigor Dimitrov Turn Back Time in Rotterdam First-Round Wins

Richard Gasquet of France beat 16th-ranked Pablo Carreno Busta for the first time in Rotterdam today. EPA-EFE/VASSIL DONEV

The one-handed backhand celebrated Rotterdam renaissance today.

Whipping his wondrous one-hander into all areas of the court, Richard Gasquet upset Pablo Carreno Busta 2-6, 7-6(2), 6-2 in his Rotterdam ABN AMRO Open opener.

The 36-year-old Gasquet beat the 16th-ranked Spaniard for the first time in three meetings, snapping an eight-match losing streak vs. Top 20 opponents indoors.

Former finalist Grigor Dimitrov used his one-handed slice to grind the gears of Aslan Karatsev’s power-based game, sweeping the qualifier 6-1, 6-3 in 58 minutes.  

The one-handed backhand once ruled Rotterdam. Arthur Ashe used his one-hander effectively to capture three of the first four Rotterdam tournament titles.

Over the years, superb single-handers, including Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker and Rotterdam tournament director Richard Krajicek have all raised the ABN AMRO Open title.

Lately, the one-hander has come up second best. Only three one-handed champions—Federer in 2012 and 2018 and Wawrinka in 2015—have won Rotterdam.

Will top-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas, the Rotterdam runner-up to Felix Auger-Aliassime last year and a 2021 semifinalist, change that trend?

Stay tuned, but Gasquet and Dimitrov made a strong start for one-handers with Wawrinka scheduled to face Alexander Bublik in a first-round clash tonight.

Last year, Gasquet was among several French players paying tribute to former Davis Cup teammates Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon, who closed the curtains on their careers with farewells on French soil.

This year, former world No. 7 Gasquet has been rejuvenated. Gasquet opened the season knocking off David Goffin and No. 12 Cameron Norrie in succession to collect his 16th career title in Auckland.

Gasquet served with precision under pressure today pumping 13 aces against two double faults and denying five of the eight break points he saved.

Though 2020 US Open semifinalist Carreno Busta hit eight more winners (44 to 36), Gasquet played pivotal points in the decisive set with more command and control. Gasquet committed just two unforced errors in the final set where he won seven of the 10 points played on the Spaniard’s second serve.

It was Gasquet’s 593rd career win and sends him into the second round against the winner of tonight’s Wawrinka vs. Bublik clash.

Sporting a white Nike baseball cap instead of his customary headband, Dimitrov dissected Karatsev. 

The former world No. 3 was superior on serve.

Dimitrov drilled seven aces, won 21 of 22 first-serve points and did not face a single break point in a sharp victory. Former ATP Finals champion Dimitrov will play either No. 5-seeded Hubert Hurkacz or Roberto Bautista Agut next. 

The 2018 Rotterdam finalist improved to 8-1 in ABN AMRO opening-round matches.

Prior to the win, Dimitrov reflected on his playing history in Rotterdam that began when tournament director Krajicek gave him a main-draw wild card back in 2009. In a dazzling debut, Dimitrov upset Tomas Berdych before bowing to Rafael Nadal, an experience he recalled as like “lived on another planet.”

“I was like my God this is so great,” Dimitrov recalled of his debut. “I was super nervous, I couldn’t sleep the night before… I was so pumped. I was just in the moment.

“For two and a half, three hours, I lived in a different planet almost. I lived it very differently… It was never about the win or lose it was more the fact that I can compete against these guys. Also knowing I had to play Rafa in second round, that gave me wings.”