Born in 1986, Rafael Nadal and Richard Gasquet were the leading players of their generation, ever since the junior days. Destined to rule the tennis courts in the future, the Spaniard and the Frenchman had entered the top-100 at a very young age, gathering experience and preparing for challenging battles on the ATP Tour.
At the end of 2003, Nadal and Gasquet were by far the youngest players in the top-100, hoping for more of the same a year later. Despite injuries, Nadal was capable of playing at a high level in 2004 while Gasquet couldn't meet the expectations of the tennis fans in France and around the world, dropping out from the top-100 and starting all over in 2005.
Playing only one Challenger in the first two and a half months, Richard claimed titles in Barletta and Napoli in March and April, gathering boost and heading to Monte Carlo as world no. 101. It was the fifth Masters 1000 event in a career for the Frenchman, the first since Paris 2003 and the third in Monte Carlo, making a winning debut there in 2002 at 15.
Determined to show his full potential in front of the home fans, Gasquet took down Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Felix Mantilla to enter the last 16, facing world no. 15 Nikolay Davydenko in the battle for the quarters. The youngster ousted the Russian 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, surviving the second set and dominating the third to arrange the meeting with world no.
1 Roger Federer. Facing three match points in the deciding tie break, Gasquet stayed composed to oust the favorite 6-7, 6-2, 7-6 in two hours and 20 minutes. Roger won the opening set tie break in style but it wasn't his best tennis that day in Monte Carlo, allowing Richard to control the pace and open a 5-2 gap in the final set.
Gasquet wasted a match point in games nine and ten, bringing Roger back to the positive side of the scoreboard and sending the momentum to the other side of the net. Federer had three match points in the tie break at 6-5, 7-6 and 8-7, squandering them all and hitting the exit door when Richard landed a backhand down the line winner at 9-8.
In the semi-final, Gasquet had to dig deep against another much better-ranked rival.
He faced his coeval Rafael Nadal and pushed him to the limits before Rafa prevailed 6-7, 6-4, 6-3 in two hours and 45 minutes. Nadal was a set and a break down, finding his rhythm in the second part of the second set and controlling the scoreboard to advance into the fina, leaving Gasquet empty-handed.
"I had beaten Roger Federer the day before facing Rafael Nadal," Gasquet says. "I had a break point in the second set and I felt we were at the same level. I had to win that match. Three months later, at Roland-Garros, I lost to Rafa in the third round and was already another player.
He won Roland-Garros in the end. I saw very quickly that he was a monumental player, monstrous one on clay. His tennis never stopped progressing; year after year, he has been improving all the time."