Because back in 1999, the pair faced off as juniors in a small tournament in the French town of Tarbes. The then-13-year-olds battled it out for three tough sets, with Gasquet emerging a 6-7, 6-4, 6-3 winner and bolstering his growing reputation as the future star of French tennis.
Ahead of his US Open semi-final clash with Nadal, Gasquet recalled that the Spaniard was incredibly tough to beat even then.
“I didn’t know him when I played him at 13 years old. He was already a big fighter, already running a lot. On the video, I can see I’m winning against him, but I don’t believe it sometimes!”
Gasquet is into the US Open semi-finals for the first time in his senior career. In fact, it is only the second time he has been beyond the last 16 of a Grand Slam tournament. The 27-year-old has always had the tools and the talent to beat the best in the world, but his mental strength has been less assured, especially on the biggest stages.
Yet he held his nerve impressively to win a four-hour, 40 minute quarter-final against David Ferrer on Wednesday. It was his second consecutive five-set victory in New York, following his fourth round defeat of Milos Raonic. Gasquet will be grateful for having had two days off before his date with Nadal, who wasted little energy during a straight sets demolition of Tommy Robredo.
The King of Clay will be the heavy favourite to win Saturday’s semi-final. As well as enjoying a commanding head-to-head record against Gasquet, he too remembers that juniors match 14 years ago.
“I lost 6-4 in the third set,” said Nadal. “It was a great match and one of my first international tournaments. Richard played amazing that day – it was a great battle for me.”