AUCKLAND: French veteran Richard Gasquet added another milestone in a career of extraordinary longevity on Saturday when he beat Cameron Norrie 4-6 6-4 6-4 at the ASB Classic to claim his 16th ATP Tour title.
The 36-year-old Gasquet has just begun his 20th year on tour and came into his first Auckland final as a substantial underdog to 12th-ranked Norrie, who was a finalist in Auckland four years ago. Gasquet is ranked 67 and recently passed 900 weeks in the top 100.
Gasquet scrambled for points throughout the match and came up with an outstanding final set to deny Norrie the title in his ''home'' tournament. Norrie was raised in New Zealand and has dreamed since childhood of winning the Auckland tournament.
Gasquet also has had a long-time dream of playing in New Zealand. As a fan of rugby he has been an admirer of New Zealand's All Blacks rugby team and thought of New Zealand often in another sporting context.
''It's my first time here in New Zealand but I really love rugby and I'm a big fan,'' Gasquet said. ''I talked a lot to French (rugby) players about how special it was to play here in New Zealand and in Auckland. I grew up watching the (All Blacks') haka, even at the Stade de France.
''I always wanted to play here but I couldn't do it while I was coming through. It's 20 years on the tour and finally I came here and I'm really happy.'' Gasquet said the first set was ''crazy'' and he couldn't make a point. He was on the back foot through most of the set after Norrie broke him in the fourth game. But he showed the fight that he kept up throughout the match, breaking back in the ninth game being broken again and conceding the set in 42 minutes.
Norrie again seemed to have the upper hand at the start of the second set. His first serve was potent and he was easily able to move the Frenchman around the court.
But Gasquet chased everything and pulled off some magnificent winners, ripping backhands down the line and eventually breaking Norrie's serve in the fifth game. He held on, surviving break points, to win the set and level the match.
Norrie seemed to have the crucial advantage when he broke Gasquet in the second match of the third set. Again, Gasquet held on against all odds, breaking back in the seventh game.
He then broke again in the ninth game, coming up with a magnificent cross-court forehand on break point. That allowed him to serve for the set and he clinched the title on his first match point.
The margins in the match were tiny. Gasquet had eight break-point chances in the deciding set and converted four, Norrie had nine and converted three.
''I wanted that one really bad but all credit to Richard, he hung in there and played better than me down the stretch,'' the British player said.
''For me, I had an amazing week. I grew up here watching the tournament, a lot of friends and family here and everyone was supporting me which was great. I really wanted to win the title but for me today makes me even more hungry and I'll be back and hopefully get the title next year.''