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Tuesday 21 November 2017

Tennis: Gasquet puts cocaine scandal behind him

Mark Hodgkinson in Melbourne

For months, Richard Gasquet felt as though he was starring in his own "disaster movie", a story about a Wimbledon semi-finalist, a Miami nightclub, a girl called 'Pamela', several French kisses and a positive dope test for cocaine.

Fortunately for the Frenchman, the cinema in his head is no longer playing 'The Cocaine Kiss Controversy', and for the first time in a long while he feels happy again with his life and with his game, especially as he prepared for the Australian Open by featuring in the Sydney International final on Saturday.

It was his first final since that evening with someone who has only ever been identified as 'Pamela'. And this will be Gasquet's first grand slam since "the story ended" when the Court of Arbitration for Sport last month cleared him of committing a doping offence, accepting his version of events that he had inadvertently ingested the drug when he kissed 'Pamela' the night before he gave a urine sample at the Miami tournament in March.

Before the CAS looked at it, Gasquet had already served a suspension of two and a half months, which meant that the closest he got to the French Open was following the coverage on television, and that he couldn't play on the Wimbledon grass.

Though he returned last August, and competed at the US Open, the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Tennis Federation appealed to the CAS, suggesting that the tribunal had been lenient and requesting he be banned for at least a year.

Only now, after last month's judgment, is he starting to feel free again.

"It's been a nightmare movie, a disaster movie, something I never thought would happen to me," said Gasquet, the runner-up to Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis in Sydney, as he sat in the players' restaurant at Melbourne Park yesterday.

"I think I had more chance of winning four grand slams in a year than testing positive for cocaine. I had to defend myself, and I did it. It was very tiring mentally because I had to deal with everything, with the public, with the press.

"It was a very big story in France, and the story just became so ridiculous. Mentally, it was tough. It's hard to come back from something like that, and that's why I was very happy to make the final in Sydney. I want to enjoy my tennis, to forget those horrible times, and remember how to be happy on court again."

It was of huge significance to Gasquet, personally as well as professionally, that the CAS exonerated him. Towards the end of last season, Gasquet still felt as though he was in that "movie", as there was still a chance that the CAS could have banned him.

"It was important for my honour to win that judgment. I'm not a drug man. I don't take cocaine at all. It was important to let people know that I never took cocaine," said the unseeded Gasquet, who tomorrow plays Mikhail Youzhny, the No 20 seed from Russia.

The two players who gave Gasquet the most support were Rafael Nadal, his Spanish friend from their junior days and Fabrice Santoro. "The players have been great with me, but especially Nadal and Santoro," said Gasquet, a former world No 7 who used to be known as 'Baby Federer'.

"I was in a really bad situation and I was very happy they supported me."

Irish Independent

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