During an interview with L'Equipe, French player Richard Gasquet reminisced about a budding rivalry with Rafael Nadal during his junior days.
Richard Gasquet, a junior Roland Garros champion in 2002, first locked horns with the Spaniard as a 12-year-old.
"Everyone told me about him. But that's the problem in France. You are young, but you have to demonstrate all the time, and in Spain, you grow more easily. But yes, there was a rivalry with Nadal, " Gasquet said.
Gasquet beat Rafael Nadal in that tournament in Tarbes, but recognized the potential in his Spanish opponent, describing him as the "best in my age group".
Richard Gasquet talks about his first Grand Slam meeting with Rafael Nadal
Richard Gasquet also looked back at his first Grand Slam meeting with Rafael Nadal, in the third round at 2005 Roland Garros. Gasquet had fallen to the Spaniard in their two previous tour level meetings - at 2004 Estoril and 2005 Monte Carlo - but the Frenchman had managed to take a set off Rafael Nadal on each occasion.
The French press really hyped up the Rafael Nadal vs Richard Gasquet matchup at Roland Garros, which put additional pressure on Gasquet.
"There was a lot of expectation, a lot of newspaper articles, and (it was) 33 degrees. No one remembers that, but I do," Gasquet said, while referring to conditions that were apparently better suited for his rival.
The Frenchman concluded by saying: "Rafa was too strong. And he won the tournament.".
The match itself turned out to be a damp squib despite the expectations and hype around Gasquet. The Frenchman lost in straight sets 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 as Rafael Nadal went on to win the tournament on debut.
What else did Richard Gasquet say about Rafael Nadal?
During the interview, Richard Gasquet said that Rafael Nadal showed signs of greatness even during his junior days. But the Frenchman quickly added that Nadal is a much better tennis player than when he first started out.
"Look at him in 2005 in Monte Carlo, with a ground game, from right to left, and look at him now: he hits everything. He is a much better tennis player now."
The Frenchman could not have been more spot on with his assessment. After graduating to the senior tour, Gasquet has failed to beat Rafael Nadal in 16 tour meetings - which includes two straight set defeats at the Frenchman's home Grand Slam, Roland Garros.
Indeed, Rafael Nadal is now widely recognized as one of the greatest players to have ever wielded a tennis racquet. The Spaniard's tally of 19 Grand Slams is only dwarfed by that of Roger Federer in the all-time leaderboard.
"Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have this ability to find that something to be even better year after year. It's crazy, many of us have made less progress than they have over the years and I can hardly explain it. We cannot do it, (but) they can.”