Spanish prodigy Rafael Nadal gave an indication of his outstanding talent by breezing past French hope Richard Gasquet in straight sets in front of a sold-out Philippe Chatrier Centre court at Roland Garros.
Nadal, 18, showed no mercy as he defeated his rival 6-4 6-3 6-2 in less than two hours to progress to the last 16.
Gasquet failed to unsettle Nadal’s physical and mental strength and solid backcourt play in a one-sided contest.
Contrary to Gasquet, who was last year eliminated in the French Open’s first round, Nadal is playing in the Parisien Grand Slam for the first time in his young career.
“It was easier than expected, I never thought before the match than I would win 6-4 6-3 6-2,” said Nadal.
“The pressure affected us both but he probably had even more pressure than me after all that has been said prior to the match.
“This favoured me in a way. I played really well today and the hot weather also helped as my shots bounced higher and this probably disturbed him.”
Nadal also hinted he feels uncomfortable with being presented as the favourite to win the tournament.
“There is no special rivalry with Gasquet, this was all made up,” Nadal added.
“It does not exist, we are just two young players and we both try to play the best we can.
“And I am not the best person either to be compared with other players.
“I am just one player among others. We are all rivals and we all want to win.”
Nadal also claims his game is improving, although he is aware the task will become harder and harder.
“I am improving my game and I will try to do my best in the next few rounds even if I know that the matches will get more and more complicated,” he added.
“I can lose anytime even if my game is better. Now I will take one match at a time.”
Nadal will next face another Frenchman, Sebastien Grosjean, who needed five sets against Czech Radek Stepanek to progress to the last 16, with a 6-1 4-6 3-6 6-3 6-4 win.
Gasquet, meanwhile, conceded the heat and Nadal’s physical pace proved decisive.
“He is more mature physically and resisted better to the heat than I did,” said the young Frenchman.
“It was very hard for me to follow the pace. That was the toughest thing.”
“Right in the middle of the second set I realised that it would be hard for me. Nadal never seemed tired and he would run and return all the balls.
“We are at the same age but I felt like I was a junior playing against a senior.”
Nadal even revealed that when he called for the trainer in the second set, it was only to gain some resting time.
“I wanted to get more minutes of break, I have not done it much in my career, only in extreme emergency cases, and today was an emergency,” he added, laughing.
Despite bowing out prematurely Gasquet is delighted with his performance at Roland Garros.
“I am very glad about my tournament and also about what I have achieved in the past two months,” added Gasquet, who defeated world number one Roger Federer in the quarter-finals of the Master Series in Monte Carlo in April before losing to eventual winner Nadal in the semis.
“Playing on centre court today also gave me a lot of experience. It showed me my limits and also what I need to work on.”
Earlier world number one Federer outclassed his Chilean opponent Fernando Gonzalez 7-6 (11/9) 7-5 6-2 to progress to the fourth round.
Roland Garros is the only Grand Slam the 23-year-old Swiss star has not yet won after lifting the Australian Open and the US Open trophies in 2004 as well as winning Wimbledon in 2003 and 2004.
“I don’t fear anyone,” said Federer, who has already won six tournaments in 2005.
“I am world number one and I have already beaten everyone.
“I have no reason to be scared or fear any player even if of course I respect them all.”
Federer will next face 1998 French Open champion Carlos Moya of Spain who triumphed over compatriot Fernando Vicente 6-4 7-6(4) 6-7(3) 0-6 6-4 in a five-set thriller on Court One.
“This is going to be an interesting match,” added Federer, “Moya is a great champion and I like him a lot.
“I was surprised he had to play five sets to win but I don’t think this will weaken his chances against me. He is used to five-set matches.
“On the other hand the fact that he played for five sets might mean he is not as strong as he was.
“But he has won the tournament once and I am sure he knows how to do it again. This is now becoming a very tough draw.”