Nadal-Gasquet: it's game on (again)!
By Benjamin Waldbaum
Friday, April 22, 2005
Born on 3rd and 18th June 1986 respectively, Rafael Nadal and Richard Gasquet both epitomise the precocity of youth. Indeed, Nadal’s rise to prominence has been nothing short of meteoric. Ranked 235th in the world at the end of 2002 after a haul of six Futures titles, he had soared to 45th one year later, courtesy of victories against the likes of Carlos Moya, Albert Costa, and Paul-Henri Mathieu. Then, in 2004, the Majorcan well and truly "exploded". After winning his first title at Sopot, he went on to impress during Spain’s Davis Cup triumph, chipping in with a point against Andy Roddick in the final.
This year, Nadal is continuing where he left off. Capable of slugging it out from the baseline all afternoon and generating phenomenal topspin, this clay court specialist with the doggedness of Lleyton Hewitt proceeded to win his second and third titles at Costa do Sauipe (Brazil) and Acapulco (Mexico), before reaching the final of the Miami Masters Series, where he twice came within two points of defeating Roger Federer.
His flawless trajectory seems to have spurred on Richard Gasquet, who had originally been the first of the two to shine at senior level when he became the youngest player to win a match on the circuit since Tommy Ho in 1988. At the age of 15 and 10 months, Gasquet beat former Roland-Garros semi-finalist, Franco Squillari, in the first round of the Monte-Carlo tournament. After becoming junior world champion that year, the prodigy from Sérignan was subsequently plagued by inconsistency. Having been 93rd in the world ranking at the end of 2003, he had slipped to 109th a year later, despite a first-ever final on the senior circuit, at the Moselle Open. In midsummer, Gasquet seemed to fall victim to an attack of self-doubt, making the news mainly for giving up in the first round of the Bronx Challenger due to "discouragement" and being disqualified for throwing his racket in the first round of the US Open qualifiers.
Federer the victim
Taken in hand by Eric Deblicker in October 2004, Gasquet soon rediscovered his direction, despite a season truncated by a bout of chicken pox. After two Challenger titles, Richard qualified for the final stages at Monte-Carlo, three years after making his resounding debut there. He proceeded to draw plaudits for his progress in terms of attitude and control of matches. His powerful right arm, one of the most impressive in tennis, brought him wins over Nikolay Davydenko, ranked 15th in the world, and, most notably, the world number 1, Roger Federer, after surviving three match points during a breathtaking encounter. All those who witnessed it are unlikely to forget the unfeasible "backhand passing shot down the line" played by Gasquet on the point that enabled him to become only the second player, after Marat Safin, to fell Federer in 2005.
Six years later…
Gasquet consequently earned himself a semi-final at Monte-Carlo against Nadal, victor in the quarter-finals over reigning Roland-Garros champion, Gaston Gaudio 6/3, 6/0! And the contrast of styles presented by the two youngsters made for a superb spectacle. On one side, the Frenchman sought to impose his attacking game, while on the other, the Spaniard covered an incredible amount of ground. Physically the stronger, it was Nadal who eventually prevailed, going on to clinch his first Masters Series title the following day against the title-holder, Guillermo Coria. Now one of the favourites for The French Open, the Spaniard has climbed to 2nd place in the ATP 2005 Race, where Gasquet occupies 47th position. While he is not yet at the same level as his rival, the Frenchman is catching up fast, and at Monte-Carlo, it was he who worried Nadal most, before losing out narrowly, 6/7, 6/4, 6/3. A glance back at the stats shows that, at their first meeting in the 1999 quarter-finals of the "Petit As" Under 14 tournament, it was Gasquet who beat Nadal in a match consisting of exactly the same number of games as in Monte-Carlo (6/7, 6/3, 6/4). Six years on, the struggle is still just as tight, and it’s surely only just beginning... which can only be good news for tennis.