PARIS (Reuters) - Rafael Nadal had expected to be spending his days fishing off his home island of Mallorca by the time he reached the age of 32 and his good friend Richard Gasquet probably wishes he was.
Instead, the Frenchman will be the latest player in Nadal’s firing line as the Spaniard, who celebrates his birthday next week, moves inexorably towards an 11th French Open title.
Nadal romped into the third round on Thursday with a 6-2 6-1 6-1 defeat of the outclassed Argentine Guido Pella.
Far from slowing down, he appears fitter and faster and is striking his forehand with frightening power.
Poor Pella never stood a chance once he had squandered four break points in the opening game of the match.
Nadal has now won 27 consecutive sets at Roland Garros, including last year’s charge to La Decima.
On this form, it looks hard to make a case for him not clamping his jaws around the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy yet again and if Gasquet is to stop him he will have to improve on a head-to-head record which reads played 15, lost 15.
It gets worse. The last 10 times the Frenchman has played against Nadal he has not even managed to win a set.
“Ten years is a long time,” Gasquet said, recalling a conversation he had with his father after losing to the Spaniard in the semi-final of the Monte Carlo Masters in 2005, a few weeks before Nadal claimed his first French Open title.
“I said, ‘He’s going to win and he might win a lot of Grand Slams, because he was incredible’. Maybe five or six, I didn’t think he would win 10 times.”
Gasquet was rated as a future Grand Slam champion then.
In all probability he will never win one major while Nadal already has 16. Yet the Spaniard could hardly have imagined he would still be ranked number one in the world 13 years after that clash and looking immovable on the Parisian clay.
“You cannot predict the future. I just enjoy the things that are happening. At the age of 25, if you’d asked me when I’m 32 will I be here, I would say probably not,” he told reporters.
“Probably I will be fishing or doing other things.
“I am very happy to be where I am. Very happy to keep playing tennis at my age, because I heard all my career I will have a short career because of my style of game.”
With rain showers predicted on Thursday, Nadal was in no mood for any overtime against Pella, dispatching his fellow left-hander with a barrage of brutal forehands on a warm and bouncy Court Suzanne Lenglen.
He struck 24 fizzing winners on the forehand and many more that softened Pella into a pulp.
“The forehand, especially after the first set, I think starts to go quicker and finding more the right spots,” he said.
Worryingly for the field, Nadal appears to be setting no limits on where his career might still go.
“How do you know when you’ve reached your limit?” he said. “If you think you can’t improve because you have reached your limit, it’s not the right thing. You can improve small things, and small things at this level can lead to great things.
“I don’t know where the limit is.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond and Ken Ferris