When he first emerged on the tennis scene, Richard Gasquet was touted as one of French tennis' brightest young talents. A 12-year-old Gasquet got the better of Rafael Nadal in a junior tournament in Tarbes in 1998, and it seemed like the sky was the limit for him.
However, the tables turned after they turned professional. Gasquet, a three-time Grand Slam semifinalist, has come out second-best in all 16 senior matches he has played against the 19-time Slam champion Nadal.
In an interaction with Tennis Majors, the 34-year-old Richard Gasquet talked about his first Masters 10000 meeting with Rafael Nadal at Monte Carlo in 2005. The Frenchman believes that the seeds of their lopsided professional rivalry were sown right then.
But it started out differently even in that match. Having beaten World No. 1 Roger Federer in the earlier round, Gasquet took the opening set against Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals.
"I had beaten Roger Federer the day before. I had a break point in the second set - I had won the first. I felt we were at the same level. This match, I had to win it. The rivalry (as juniors) was huge but it didn't last long."
That was as good as it got for the talented Frenchman. Rafael Nadal took the next two sets for the loss of just seven games and went on to lift the first of his 11 titles in the Principality.
Rafael Nadal's tennis has never stopped progressing: Richard Gasquet
A few weeks later, at Roland Garros, Richard Gasquet locked horns with Rafael Nadal for the first time at a Grand Slam. This time, the Frenchman put up even less resistance, as he was overwhelmed in straight sets.
Gasquet, talking about that third-round encounter, realized that Rafael Nadal was already playing at a different level. And the Frenchman's assessment has been proven right many times since - especially on clay.
Four rounds later, Rafael Nadal became the first teenager in 15 years to win a Grand Slam title since a 19-year-old Pete Sampras won the 1990 US Open.
"Three months later, at Roland Garros, where I lost in the third round, I saw that he was already another player," Gasquet said. "He won Roland Garros."
Gasquet also said that he could immediately see why Rafael Nadal had earned the moniker of 'King of Clay'.
"I saw very quickly that he was a monumental player, quite simply, on clay he was monstrous."
Today it is widely acknowledged that the left-hander is an irresistible force on the red dirt. Rafael Nadal owns a plethora of records on the surface; his 59 titles are the most by any player on clay, and his winning rate of 91.8 is at least five percentage points better than second-placed Bjorn Borg.
Overall too Rafael Nadal has maintained a terrifyingly high level throughout his career. He has bagged 19 Grand Slam titles, second only to Roger Federer's 20.
Rafael Nadal first broke into the ATP top 10 in 2005, where he has remained ever since. Last year, the Spaniard became the oldest year-end World No. 1.
Gasquet concluded by lauding Rafael Nadal for his ability to keep improving.
"His tennis never stopped progressing. And it is especially this, which is amazing, which is crazy. Year after year, he improves all the time," Gasquet added.