Ruthless Rafa extends perfect record against Gasquet

 - Simon Cambers

Spaniard celebrates his 35th birthday with a second-round thumping of his old friend Richard Gasquet

Rafael Nadal, Roland Garros 2021, second round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

To bastardise one of the most famous sayings in tennis, no one stops Rafael Nadal from beating Richard Gasquet 17 times in a row.

While Vitas Gerulaitis was talking about Jimmy Connors after finally beating the American on his 17th attempt, Gasquet was not able to do the same thing against Nadal as the 13-time champion marched into the third round at Roland-Garros on Thursday.

On his 35th birthday, in his first experience of the night session on Court Philippe-Chatrier, Nadal’s 6-0, 7-5, 6-2 victory over his old friend sent him through to a last-32 meeting with Britain’s Cameron Norrie.

“Of course it's better to win 16 in a row than lose 16 in a row,” Nadal said. “When you go to the match and you have been winning all the last 16 times, of course the confidence is a little bit higher than when you have a tougher head-to-head.

“Being honest, I respect (and) I know how good is Richard. I know he's coming back after a tough period of time. I think he played smart, playing aggressive. I don't know. I just went on court with highest respect, with the highest focus possible, and that's what I try to do every day against everyone.”

When Gasquet first played Nadal as a teenager, he came off court and said that Nadal would go on to win Roland-Garros one day, so talented was the young Spaniard.

Thirteen Paris titles on, Nadal shows no sign of stopping yet and in the first set he was little short of sensational, barely missing a ball as the Frenchman was pummelled into submission.

“I think I played an amazing first set, a great one,” Nadal said. “I don’t feel Richard was playing that bad in the first set to have it like that but I didn’t miss balls and was hitting all the spots.”

Having won the title without losing a set last October, Nadal extended his streak of straight-set wins to nine matches, although he had to work much harder in the second after squandering a 5-2 lead, before going on to win the third.

“In the second set, it was still good, 5-2, set point for 6-2. I didn't convert that one. And then I had a very bad game with my serve in 5-3, missing a couple of backhands and then forehand in the 30-40," he explained.

“Then, of course Richard is a great player. He had some good serves on the next game, and then was tough. But I was able to find a way to win that second set and then in the third, I had to work a little bit more then, because I had to do the break on against the wind. But I did it. I resisted well that game. And finally I had the break, and then couple more games in a row.”

Rafael Nadal Roland Garros 2021 second round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Nadal will face world No.45 Norrie for the third time this year and said the Briton would present him with a different challenge.

“Well, he's a great player. He's winning plenty of matches this year, every week he's making good results, winning against very good players,” he said.

“I know it’s going to be a tough one. I need to be ready to play my best. I know he has a style of game that is not easy to play against. I need to play well.

“So let's see. I hope to be ready to play at the level that I need, and I’m going to be having a good session of practice tomorrow and trying to be ready after tomorrow.”