Rafael Nadal, who has looked at his brilliant, unbeatable best for the majority of this clay court season, will hope to take another step towards what would be an unprecedented eleventh Roland Garros crown when he takes to the court against former French golden boy Richard Gasquet. Injuries, amongst other issues, prevented Gasquet from ever entirely fulfilling his potential, but he has still been a member of the top ten and even now is the 29th seed. But can he stop Nadal?
On the evidence of their past meetings the answer to that question would be a resounding no. The Frenchman has never beaten Nadal at Tour-level, and he has had fifteen attempts, and hasn’t beaten him at any level since 2003. That win came at a Challenger in St Jean de Luz when Nadal retired after losing the first set 6-2. Since then, Nadal has inflicted some serious pain on the Frenchman, including by defeating him in the US Open semifinals.
They have met once before at Roland Garros, with Nadal besting Gasquet in straight sets in the third round in 2005 on his way to his first title. Indeed, in their seven total meetings on clay, which include semifinals in Monte Carlo in 2005 and Rome in 2011, Gasquet has won just two sets, pushing Nadal to three sets in the second round in Estoril in 2004 and then again extending Nadal the distance in the aforementioned Monte Carlo semifinal in 2005. Gasquet hasn’t actually won a set on any surface against Nadal since 2008 at the Rogers Cup.
Path to the third round
Nadal, the top seed in Paris, began his campaign against Italy’s Simone Bolelli. The clay court veteran had lost his five previous meetings with Nadal, and the Spaniard was broadly untroubled in taking a two set lead. But in the third, which was interrupted by an overnight rain delay, Bolelli pushed Nadal to play his very best tennis, and was unlucky to lose it having held three set points, ultimately falling 4-6 3-6 6-7. The great Spaniard was rather more comfortable in dispatching Guido Pella, winning through 6-2 6-1 6-1.
Gasquet opened his tournament against Andreas Seppi, delivering a performance reminiscent of him at the peak of his powers. He brushed aside the Italian’s challenge in a 6-0 6-2 6-2 win to the evident delight of the French crowd, amongst whom his attacking tennis and exquisite backhand have always been popular. He put in another impressive performance to best Malek Jaziri of Tunisia in four sets 6-2 3-6 6-3 6-0.
How do they match up?
Nadal, an excellent defender on red clay, also presents one of the most formidable attacking threats on the surface, if not the most. And, to make matters worse for Richard Gasquet, the Spaniard has seemed to take a special, almost vengeful delight, in taking apart the elegant one-handed backhands that Gasquet’s is the prime example of. For, whilst the bruising and powerful one-handed backhands of Wawrinka and Thiem can occasionally stand up to Nadal, Gasquet’s cannot.
The Frenchman doesn’t have the same strength of arm as the Swiss and the Austrian. Though he is able to generate significant pace with his backhand, he does so with a greater amount of timing, using their opponents pace against them. And Gasquet’s other problem in this match up is that his backhand is his biggest weapon. He struggles to hurt his opponents consistently enough with his forehand and serve. And so he, in this match up, comes against surely the greatest clay courter of all-time without his best shot.
Nadal in straight sets. The Spaniard owns a 15-0 lead in the head-to-head for a reason. The match up for Nadal is perfect on a slow clay court, where Gasquet doesn’t have a chance to play the game he is best at; using his opponent’s power and the pace of the court against them. The Frenchman has played some excellent tennis so far, and he’s certainly not a clay court novice. But against Nadal, on a clay court, if you’re anything other than your best, you lose.