This is the game everyone wants to see this Thursday. Richard Gasquet facing Rafael Nadal. The shock of a generation, two men who have known and confronted each other from an early age. But the poster has perhaps never appeared so unbalanced.
On January 12, 1980, the late Vitas Gerulaitis uttered one of the most famous phrases in tennis. After beating Jimmy Connors in the Masters semifinals he says: “Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row.” Because yes before that he remained on 16 defeats in a row against Connors. The results of the Gasquet Nadal face-to-face meetings? 16-0 for the Mallorcan.
Yet difficult to imagine Richard Gasquet ending this series. The French no longer seems to be in the capacity to make a big fight on clay, in three winning sets. We have to go back to Roland-Garros 2016 to see him perform well on Parisian clay. Gasquet had beaten Nishikori, 6th in the world at the time, before giving in in the quarterfinals against Andy Murray in four sets. Since then he has not beaten at Roland Garros a player better classified than 50th place in the world.
Against the Spaniard, 13 times winner of Porte d’Auteuil, the task looks very complicated. But Richard Gasquet is happy all the same. “It’s just fun. It’s fabulous for me to find myself playing him. I first played him in 2005 here. He is perhaps the greatest player of all time, 13 a time winner at Roland Garros. I’m happy to play it, I want to play a great match, to feel that I’m at a good level. “
Their first meeting on the ATP circuit dates back to 2004 in Estoril where Nadal had won in three rounds despite a foot injury (which deprived him of Roland-Garros that year). All stats are against Gasquet. No victory therefore, even worse no set taken since 2008 and if that is not enough, the Biterrois has never won a single set on clay. “It’s a huge frustration to have lost so many times, it’s unpleasant, says Gasquet. (…) He’s the only player I’ve never beaten, I’m very disappointed with this stat on my career but it’s been 17 years that I play I never won, it’s difficult but that’s how it is. “
2005: 3 months that changed everything
Gasquet and Nadal are from the same year, 1986, they faced each other in the youth categories, in the Petits As final in 1999 when they were 12 years old. The turning point in their career came in 2005.
The two men face each other in the semi-finals in Monte-Carlo. Gasquet has just brought down Roger Federer, at only 18 years old. Against Nadal, in the semi-final, the French won the first set before losing in three sets. A few months later, they face each other at Roland Garros in the third round and there everything has changed.
“I took 6/4 6/3 6/2, when I left I said to my father, it’s over, he’s the new winner of Roland Garros, explains the former world number 7. I saw very quickly that it was an alien. I knew it was going to be anything on clay, it was the case behind. I had been close to Monaco, but there I did not was not close at all. I had already seen that he was a different guy, not at all the same level, I knew he was going to win Roland-Garros maybe not 13 times but I knew it was going to become a huge player. “
“His forehand on my backhand that goes back every time, it’s very hard for me to play that shot”
So why has Rafael Nadal dominated Richard Gasquet so much for all these years? There are a lot of explanations. Nadal is already one of the best players of all time, 88 titles including 20 in Grand Slam, the world number 1 place for 209 weeks. But tactically there is an aspect which explains such dominance of the Spaniard against the French. “Normally my strength is the backhand diagonal. On 90% of the players, it is a diagonal that I dominate and this is the hardest, explains Gasquet. A left-hander is complicated, and above all it cancels out this force. that I have. His forehand on my backhand that goes up every time, it’s very hard for me to play that shot. It’s the biggest problem I have against him, I have to ‘others, but mostly this one that hurts me. “
To further complicate Richard Gasquet’s task, this 17th confrontation will take place behind closed doors in the night session. No cheering from the audience, no ‘Ritchie we’re with you’, just the deafening sound of Rafael Nadal’s forehand strike and the Spaniard’s ‘vamos’ on the Parisian night.