Right after Rafael Nadal defeated Richard Gasquet in the third round at Roland Garros in 2005, former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash wrote a moving column about him for Times Online. In it, Cash claimed that no other player struck fear in the hearts of his opponents like Nadal did while he himself played like he had nothing to fear.
The 2005 Roland Garros marked the Mallorcan's 6th ever Grand Slam and his first ever French Open. Seeded 4th in the tournament, he defeated four seeded players on his way to the title (his first ever Major), including a victory over top seed Roger Federer in the semifinals.
In the article (archive can be found here), the Australian compared the World No. 5 to then World No. 1 Roger Federer. Cash was of the opinion that Federer's demeanor was more on the calm and unemotional side of things. But Nadal, then only a teenager, seemed to emphasize on showing his opponents how much he relished beating them.
"I believe he induces more pre-match fear in opponents than any other player, Federer included," Cash wrote. "He has an imposing presence on the court and whereas Federer is almost as undemonstrative as Bjorn Borg used to be, Nadal believes in letting other player know how emphatically he feels they have been outplayed. Opponents are frightened of Rafael Nadal, but he seems to fear nothing."
Pat Cash listed many of the attributes that he thought were important in the 35-year-old's arsenal, such as his agility, his racket speed and even his serving. But what the former World No. 4 felt was the backbone of Nadal's guaranteed success in the years to come was his mental determination and grit.
"He produces such enormous racket speed. The increased muscle has enabled his serve to develop as a true weapon. His speed of foot suggests he will be able to operate on the quicker surfaces," Cash wrote. "However, it is that determination which sets him apart. He forces the other guy to collapse, as [the third round] win over Gasquet proved."
"The physique had not developed and he looked like a child, but there was a maturity when Rafael Nadal was under pressure" - Pat Cash
Pat Cash prefaced all this by recalling an incident where he played Rafael Nadal in an exhibition match in 2001, back when the former World No. 1 was only 14 years of age. Even then, Cash recollected, the Spaniard had remarkable maturity when it came under pressure from his opponents.
"He came bounding out like this was his big chance. Even four years ago, his game had so many astounding qualities," Cash wrote. "The physique had not developed and he looked like a child, but there was a maturity when he was under pressure and he showed an intensity beyond his years on every shot."
Cash recounted that he initially thought of the Mallorcan's trademark fistbump celebration, a habit he has retained until today, as "disrespectful." But once he got over the glum of being defeated by a "child", the 56-year-old could not ignore the sheer talent that was right in front of his eyes.
Cash went on to refer to him as the "future King of Clay," a title that would come true within years of the Australian writing so.
"I won the first set, he took the second. In the [12 point] tiebreak, there he was at the net, diving to make seemingly impossible volleys and bouncing up to brandish yet another celebratory fist."
Part of me thought he was disrespectful, but once I got over my initial anger at being beaten by a child, I realized I had just encountered a talent that could win tennis’s greatest prizes. The next day I phoned several of my sponsors and told them to invest in this boy. When he raises that trophy, I can take consolation that I was beaten by a future king of clay." Cash wrote.
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