FLUSHING, N.Y. — The YouTube video is grainy but the players are unmistakable. The year was 1999 and two 13-year-olds, Rafael Nadal of Spain and Richard Gasquet of France, were facing off in the final of Les Petits As, a prestigious junior tournament in Tarbes, France.On screen, Gasquet’s wondrous one-handed backhand is in full view on the indoor hardcourt, as is Nadal’s ability to scramble back and forth across the baseline. Though they would both ultimately stand 6-foot-1, back then Nadal was several inches taller and would continually rush the net, a skill he seems to have lost over the years. After a long rally, Gasquet’s down-the-line forehand lands just out of Nadal’s reach and both players meet at the net for an awkward handshake, Gasquet a 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 winner. He hasn’t beaten Nadal since.“He was already fighting a lot, running so much and I remember telling my father after, ‘He’s a big fighter,’” mused Gasquet after the eighth seed’s 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3 upset of No. 4 David Ferrer of Spain on Wednesday to set up Saturday’s semifinal against the second-seeded Nadal. “I didn’t lie. It was true. [Nadal] is one of the biggest players in the history. ...It’s good to win under-14, but it’s better to win on the pro [tour] and I didn’t. But life is long, huh? So why not? We will see.”Gasquet, who has never before advanced beyond the round of 16 at a major, has had a decidedly more difficult road to the semis than has Nadal. After benefiting from an injury to Russian Dmitry Tursunov in the fourth set of their third-round match, Gasquet was stretched to five sets by Canadian Milos Raonic in the round of 16 and to another five sets by Ferrer in the quarterfinals. Raonic actually held a match point in the fourth-set tiebreaker before Gasquet prevailed.Nadal, on the other hand, has cruised through the men’s draw with the loss of only one set to German Philipp Kohlschreiber in the round of 16. In his 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 quarterfinal win over Spaniard Tommy Robredo (who upset five-time U.S. Open champ Roger Federer), Nadal played for 38 minutes before Robredo won his first game.Nadal’s record on the ATP World Tour this year is 58-3, which is particularly remarkable given that he didn’t begin his season until February (causing him to miss the Australian Open in January) because of a lingering knee injury. Since then he has won nine tournaments, including the French Open on clay in June, and he came into the Open on the heels of back-to-back hardcourt wins in Montreal and Cincinnati, where he beat world No. 1 Novak Djokovic en route to the title. His only bobble was a shocking loss to 135th-ranked Steve Darcis of Belgium in the first round at Wimbledon.The other semifinal pits Djokovic against ninth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland. Wawrinka upset the defending champ and third seed Andy Murray in three lackluster sets in the quarterfinals. Djokovic and Wawrinka faced each other in the round of 16 here last year, but Wawrinka retired from the match down 6-4, 6-1, 3-1 because of illness. They last met in a spectacular match in the round of 16 at the Australian Open, a match won by Djokovic 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 12-10. Wawrinka led that match 6-1, 5-2 before losing the second set. He then held four break points to go up 5-3 in the fifth set and serve for the match before collapsing and allowing the Serb to go on and win the tournament over Murray in the final.No doubt there is YouTube video of that one as well.
U.S. Open men’s semifinals
TV: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. today, KTVT/11