Showcasing their fine brush-strokes and fluid movement, Roger Federer ultimately had too much in his armoury, the finely-controlled drop-shots undoing Richard Gasquet on several occasions, and an incredible lob under pressure saving one of a handful of break points the Swiss faced down in an enthralling second set.
Gasquet may have lost in straight sets – and ultimately he won 15 fewer points and hit 11 more unforced errors than Federer – but by simple virtue of his technical prowess the Frenchman was able to leave the crowd gasping for more after an hour and 21 minutes.
The epic closing game neatly summed the encounter up: Gasquet threw everything at Federer, saving five match points before his resistance finally fell.
Throughout the clash we saw baseline exchanges of their classic single-handed backhands, the trading of volleys at the net, the odd crunching forehand winner and plenty of deceitful topspin – although, ultimately, it was Federer’s brilliant use of the drop-shot that did for Gasquet.
France’s Gasquet has done well to put himself in a position whereby, to reach the semi-finals, he needs to beat Novak Djokovic and hope that Juan Martin Del Potro crushes Federer.
That such a combination of results is unlikely should not concern Gasquet, who qualified for these Finals last week and who has done exceptionally well to position himself among the world’s elite after his career seemed set to leave the rails four years ago.
A bright start to life on the Tour saw Gasquet rise to what remains a career-high of world number 7 back in 2007, just after he turned 21. But a collection of injuries and slump in form saw him fall out of the top 20, before a positive test for cocaine – which resulted in a shortened three-month ban after his excuse of a rogue nightclub kiss was accepted – threatened to spark a terminal decline.
The playboy reputation has been shrugged off in recent years though and, despite being wedged in a hugely competitive era for men’s tennis, Gasquet has found himself back in the top 10, and back at the season-ending finals for the first time since his career rankings peak.
Arguably he is playing superior tennis now, mixing it with the big boys and rightly earning a reputation as a showman with benefits.
Gasquet’s lack of physical prowess will ultimately prevent him from breaking into the top four. He lacks the power of Tomas Berdych or the boundless energy of David Ferrer. Not a natural athlete, he even appears short of Federer in that department – a Federer who, at the age of 32, is regarded as being on a downward slope physically, if not in terms of craftsmanship.
But when he appears at these gilded events, and in the latter stages of the Grand Slams, as he found himself in New York this summer, Gasquet is a joy to behold. When Federer eventually calls it quits, ‘Little’ Richard looks set to draw the eye for the tennis purists.
Reda Maher - on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport