Nadal's 35th birthday party with no guests at French Open

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Rafael Nadal. (Photo by Photo by TPN/Getty Images)
Rafael Nadal. (Photo by Photo by TPN/Getty Images)

Rafael Nadal will celebrate his 35th birthday at the French Open on Thursday by facing Richard Gasquet, a player he first encountered when he was just 12.

However, schedulers have handed Nadal the evening session leaving the party celebrations a little flat as the match clashes with a 9pm Covid-19 curfew and a spectator ban.

Gasquet won his first junior clash against Nadal at the Petits As tournament in France in 1999.

Sadly for him, that was as good as it would ever get.

On the ATP Tour, Nadal has monopolised their head-to-head and leads 16-0.

That record includes two meetings at Roland Garros in 2005 and 2018.

"I don't have many French Opens left to play so I want to make the most of it," said Gasquet who made his debut at the tournament back in 2002.

His best run was in 2016 when he lost in the quarter-finals to Andy Murray.

World number three Nadal, bidding for a 14th French Open and record-setting 21st Grand Slam title, is a close friend of Gasquet.

He publicly supported the Frenchman when he was handed a short ban in 2009 after testing positive for cocaine, inadvertently ingested after kissing a woman in a Miami nightclub.

Nadal reached this year's second round thanks to a straight sets win over Australia' Alexei Popyrin and has now won 26 sets in a row at the tournament.

Roger Federer, also the winner of 20 Slams, renews his rivalry with Marin Cilic for a place in the last 32.

The Swiss star leads their head-to-head 9-1 with Cilic's only win coming in the semi-finals of the 2014 US Open when he went on to claim his only Grand Slam title.

Federer, the 2009 champion in Paris, made the second round with a straight sets win against Uzbek qualifier Denis Istomin.

It was just his second win on the tour in 2021 and first at a major since losing to Novak Djokovic in the 2020 Australian Open semi-finals.

He is still feeling his way back after undergoing two knee surgeries last year.

Top seed and world number one Novak Djokovic is also in action on Thursday in another battle of the over 30s as he faces Uruguay's Pablo Cuevas.

Djokovic, the 2016 champion at the French Open, is bidding to become the first man in more than half a century to win all four Slams more than once.

At the other end of the spectrum is 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz who on Monday became the youngest player to win a match at Roland Garros since Djokovic in 2005.

Barty injury fear

If the Spaniard beats 28th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili on Thursday, he will be the youngest man to reach the French Open last 32 since Andrei Medvedev in 1992.

Top seed Ashleigh Barty faces Poland's Magda Linette for a place in the last 32.

The 2019 champion admitted after her opening round win that she was "not 100%" after picking up a left hip injury.

Linette, ranked 45, made the semi-finals on clay in Strasbourg last weekend but has never defeated a top-10 player.

Barty's successor as champion, Iga Swiatek, takes on Sweden's Rebecca Peterson.

Swiatek has hit with Nadal this week at Roland Garros, a meeting which made her so nervous that the Pole admitted she prepared a list of helpful conversation starters should she get tongue-tied.

Meanwhile, home hopes of a first men's champion in 38 years have almost been extinguished.

Only three French players made the second round of the 18 who started.

Of those, wild card Enzo Couacaud lost Wednesday leaving war horses Gasquet and national number one Gael Monfils, both 34, to save national pride.

It is the hosts' worst performance since the dawn of the Open era in 1968.

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