Andres Gomez woke up at about 4 a.m. in Ecuador Thursday morning. The 1990 Roland Garros champion was awake plenty early in anticipation of watching his son, Emilio Gomez, play in the final round of qualifying on the Parisian terre battue. Thirty years ago, Andres lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires after beating Andre Agassi in the final.
Which made him more nervous: competing for the trophy or watching his son trying to qualify for a Grand Slam for the first time?
“Watching. It’s not even close. I probably walked more around the house and around the TV watching the match than I did when I played the final,” Andres told ATPTour.com.
For a while, 28-year-old Emilio appeared to be heading towards defeat against Dmitry Popko. In a match that featured two rain suspensions, the Kazakhstani led 3-0 in the third set and had a break point to go up a double-break against the Ecuadorian. At 4-5 in the decider, he faced two match points on his serve.
“I’d rather be on the court than being outside. Outside you get so nervous,” Emilio said. “On the court you have all the adrenaline, which makes it go by. But when you’re outside and hoping for someone to win that much, especially imagining for my dad, [I am sure] he did a couple rounds of the house.”
Gomez played without fear, going after his forehand on Court 13. If he was going to fall short, he was going to do so on his terms. It didn’t matter that he was dealing with a sore back, which hindered him.
“I think the will to win was stronger than all the pain I was feeling in that third set,” Emilio said. “I played super aggressive and kind of forgot about everything [and] where I was. I was looking for my first main draw appearance at a Grand Slam, [which is] especially [important] here at the French Open.
“It took a lot of running and a lot of guts to pull it out after having two match points against me.”
Gomez, the No. 155 player in the FedEx ATP Rankings, rallied. By staving off defeat, he put the pressure on Popko. Despite failing to serve out the match at 6-5, Gomez stormed through the tie-break to turn one of his dreams — making the main draw of a major — into reality.
“It was disbelief for how everything went during the match,” Emilio said of what he felt after completing his victory. “As I was walking off I had so many emotions that I have never had before, thinking about all the things I went through to be here and to enjoy this moment. It’s been tough for me.”
It’s not that long ago that Gomez was considering quitting professional tennis. In April 2017, he hurt his shoulder during a Davis Cup match. That injury kept him out for nearly four months. When he returned, the shoulder still was “pretty bad”. Gomez couldn’t serve or hit his forehand normally for an extended period of time.
In June 2018, he lost in the first round of three consecutive Futures events in the United States and his FedEx ATP Ranking was outside the Top 500. A month later, there were two Futures in Ecuador that were his last chance to turn things around.
“I felt like the world was against me. I was ready to quit, but at that time I had two weeks to prepare for two tournaments in Ecuador and I was able to work and give myself that last chance,” Emilio said. “I won both tournaments in singles and doubles and that gave me that extra life. Qualifying here at the French was really important, but if you ask me what the most important thing I’ve done in my career is, it was probably winning those Futures.”
The Gomez family practises positivity, and that’s what Emilio has done. Last year in Tallahassee he lifted his first ATP Challenger Tour trophy and in October, he reached a career-high World No. 143.
Inevitably, people will take notice that the son of a Grand Slam champion is working his way towards the Top 100. When Andres goes to see his son compete, he tries to watch from a place where people don’t focus on him being there rather than Emilio playing.
“He has a weight to carry with me that’s on him all the time. I’m not even present, but without the [physical] presence,” Andres said. “He deals with it very well and we’re proud of what he does and how he goes about himself. He’s very professional, so he deserves to get the big rewards and hopefully this is the start of something.
“I can’t shy away from being a parent and a proud one.”
For Emilio, that “weight” of being Andres Gomez’s son has lessened over time.
“It’s been easier as time has gone by. It’s just been nice. It’s actually nice they mention him because I know how much this means not only to me, but my whole family,” Emilio said. “I think for Sebastian Korda it’s pretty much the same [with him being Petr Korda’s son]. That’s the difference between Sebi, me and the other sons of tennis players. We are the only two sons of Grand Slam champions playing tennis [at this level right now].
“I think I fulfilled something that he’s wanted for a long time, but we’re going back to work tomorrow. We’re going to enjoy it today, a little bit tomorrow and then get ready for the first round because it’s going to be pretty important. It’s probably going to be the most important match I’ve been a part of, whoever I play. I’m just happy to be a part of it. I’m going to go for it and take my chances.”
The earliest Emilio will play his first-round match – against Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego – is Sunday, giving the Ecuadorian time to rest. His dad needs it, too.
“It’s very exciting,” Andres said. “I’m drained!”