Showman Gaston eager to reward crowd support

The French youngster produced another Roland-Garros epic to edge Alex de Minaur across five sets

Hugo Gaston, Roland Garros 2022, first round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Court Suzanne-Lenglen was jumping to the beat of Hugo Gaston.

Tricolor flags fluttered across the stands, fans leapt into the air, the noise a swirling cacophony that could be heard at the opposite end of the grounds.

After four hours of pulsating play, the crowd was hailing their hero who wears his heart on his sleeve. Cue an archetypal Roland-Garros sing-along, ‘Happy Birthday’ prompted by Gaston for his girlfriend.

All the footage, social media and pictures had passion bursting on to the screen, the Frenchman roaring with the crowd.


Gaston is simply box office in Paris.

The 21-year-old replicated the form and swagger from his Roland-Garros 2020 fourth-round showing to take down No.19 seed Alex de Minaur 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 0-6, 7-6(4) on Tuesday.

A quick flick down the stats paints a picture. Gaston notched up 44 winners (to the Australian’s 47), 29 drop shots, 14 lobs, 20 passing shots; the Frenchman's variety and exuberance was a hot-shot smorgasbord.

Home Slam hero

“It was an amazing match. The atmosphere was electric, the court was full, so I'm pretty happy because it was a really difficult opponent, and match,” said the world No.74, who spoke about his pre-tournament doubts after a clay campaign that yielded a 1-5 record in 2022.

“I came to this Roland-Garros with very few matches, very few wins and some questions on myself. But my game level was always good, I felt in good physical shape, and I had a few problems that made it so that I didn't succeed.

“But today [Tuesday] I was well in my mind and physically in my game. So I’m happy, relieved. If it had been a loss, it would have been difficult to handle, but I gave my best.”

That scintillating triumph was his fourth career top-20 victory, on par with his five-set thrillers at Roland-Garros 2020 against Stan Wawrinka (win) and Dominic Thiem (defeat).

Add into the mix Gaston’s enthralling run from qualifying to the quarter-finals at the Rolex Paris Masters last November – including statement wins over Carlos Alcaraz and Pablo Carreno Busta – and the Frenchman simply thrives on performing in his home capital.

“Yeah, I love to play in Paris,” said Gaston, feeding off the ardent French fans.

“The crowd plays a very important role. They supported me right from the beginning. They didn't come back at the fifth set. They were encouraging me right from the beginning of the match.

“I like to share my emotions with the audience, so this helped me. This gave me strength, because it was not an easy task at the beginning of the fifth set and even at the end. I used the crowd. They were fantastic, so it was a great moment and I want to share more with them.”

'I'm not a robot'

Back in October 2020, the slicing and dicing left-hander made national news with his second-week appearance on debut at Roland-Garros. Those memories continue to inspire him back on the same grounds.  

“I know that I had excellent moments on this court and even in Roland-Garros in general. So I used the edition two years ago to do the same thing,” add the 21-year-old, who believes he has developed well since his Parisian breakout. 

“I think my game, it's better. I feel more strong in my head, in my game, and my physical also. So I think I'm also a good person and a better player, too.”

That development got him over the line against de Minaur, where he was able to find exquisite shots despite cramp setting in during the closing stages. Gaston also served for the second-round ticket at 5-4 and 6-5 in the decider, the super tie-break building the drama and theatre to a crescendo.

“Right now I'm exhausted, and that's normal. I'm not a robot, but I'm very happy,” reflected the Frenchman. “I could have carried on playing, I would have given my whole body on the court.”

There’s that raw passion.

Next up it’s ‘lucky loser’ Pedro Cachin, who has compiled an impressive clay campaign on the Challenger circuit. However, Gaston was eager to soak in another magical night on home courts before turning his attention to that duel.

A new page

The world of tennis failed to hold back the tears as we waved goodbye to another French showman on Tuesday, as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga completed his last career match.

“He’s a champion. For sure the best memories for me it's in the Australian Open when he made the final [2008],” added Gaston. “An amazing player and good person also. I'm happy for him and his career.”

Turning the pages from Tsonga to the current crop, the likes of Alcaraz, Sebastian Korda, Sebastian Baez and Holger Rune, who Gaston grew up with, continue to chalk up impressive major wins.

“I think a new exciting generation keeps coming. Alex (de Minaur) is here like for two, three years. I know it's a really tough opponent, and I'm really happy about this match and about the generation of now also," he said.

The showman Gaston seems ready to step into Tsonga’s shoes.