When Richard Gasquet looked ahead last week to the US Open, which begins here today, he said he would be delighted to play anyone. "Happiness is being on court," he said. "I'm happy to play whoever in the first round: Nadal, Federer, a qualifier, it doesn't matter." There must have been a wry smile on the 23-year-old Frenchman's face when he saw that his first opponent was Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard was the most outspoken of all the leading players in defence of Gasquet when he tested positive for cocaine earlier this year.
A tribunal ruled last month that Gasquet was indeed technically guilty of a doping offence, but it imposed only a two and a half month ban – the time he had spent out of the game since the announcement of his positive test – instead of the mandatory two-year suspension which the International Tennis Federation had been seeking. The test had shown traces of a tiny quantity of cocaine and the tribunal accepted that he had probably ingested it through kissing a woman in a nightclub the previous evening.
The ITF's appeal against the verdict will be heard before the end of the year, but in the meantime Gasquet is picking up the pieces of his career. He has resumed working with his former coach, Eric Deblicker, along with Yannick Noah, the former French Open champion and Davis Cup captain.
Having not picked up a racket throughout the build-up to his hearing, Gasquet has been training hard for the last month. A former world No 7, he is down to No 46 in the rankings as a result of not playing on the main tour since April, though he believes he can soon get back into the top 20. He began his comeback by trying to qualify for last week's tournament in New Haven but was beaten by Dusan Vemic, the world No 458.
"It was just a pleasure to play," Gasquet told L'Equipe, the French sports newspaper. "I'm back so that I can forget all the blows I've suffered. It's been a sad time for me – the only sad time in my life." He added: "Stopping for those two and a half months was very tough mentally. I ask only one thing: be patient. I need time. Not many people would have recovered after going through what I've experienced."
Gasquet's case underlines how cautious players have to be. Andy Murray said here on Saturday that he avoided taking supplements just in case they contain any banned substances.
"I can't be more careful than I am just now," he said. "I just don't take anything because that would be one of the scariest things that could happen to me. It would be with you for the rest of your career. We were in one of the pharmacies the other day. There was something like a PowerBar next to the counter, but even though you're hungry you can't risk it."
Murray, who will play his opening match here tomorrow or Wednesday, says that players have asked in vain for lists of products that the game's authorities will guarantee are acceptable. "We don't have any sort of body that will sanction vitamins or supplements for the players, which would make a big difference," he said.
"You really should take something if you're playing for five hours in the sort of heat you can get here or in Australia. I don't think it's healthy to play in 40-degree heat for five hours and then not have a sort of supplement that can help you recover."
The women's tour, in contrast, has a supplement provider that gives guarantees about its products. "I got given a couple of bottles, but I'm too scared to take any of them," Murray said.
Robson vows to defeat nerves
Laura Robson hopes she will learn lessons from her defeat to Eva Hrdinova in the final round of qualifying for the US Open here on Saturday. Robson, who has been training recently at the Mouratoglou Academy in Paris, led 4-0 in the final set but had trouble breathing because of the tension and lost 7-6, 6-4, 7-6 after more than three hours. "It's all about experience," the 15-year-old said. "Dealing with nerves is something I have to get used to." Elena Baltacha, the other Briton in the final round of qualifying, was beaten 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 by Australia's Anastasia Rodionova. Paul NewmanReuse content