Originally created 05/26/05

Teens capture fancy of Paris



PARIS - One charismatic teen bludgeoned the ball, the other stroked it elegantly. The first showed off sculpted biceps with a sleeveless neon green shirt, the other motored around court on muscle-bulging legs.

Spain's Rafael Nadal and France's Richard Gasquet, 18-year-olds born 15 days and a couple hundred miles apart, proved there wasn't a shred of hype about their talents as one followed the other with masterful center court victories at the French Open on Wednesday to set up a third-round showdown.

The cheers rang out for hours as Nadal, the flashier of the two, won in straight sets just as Gasquet did before him. They, not No. 1 Roger Federer, were the talk of the tournament for the moment. The Swiss advanced easily to the third round, too, and he could meet one of the teen sensations in the semifinals - the day Nadal turns 19.

Nadal, the No. 4 seed and winner of five clay-court tournaments this year, wins by imposing his will on opponents, keeping them on the defensive, and playing with relentless energy, as he did on in a 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Belgium's Xavier Malisse.

Gasquet, who turns 19 on June 18, unleashed fluid forehands and stunningly hard, one-handed backhands in beating net-charging Peter Wessels, of the Netherlands, 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-1. Unfortunately for Gasquet, Nadal will not present as easy a target for passing shots as Wessels did.

Federer, 43-2 this year, surely has that instinct, as he displayed in a 6-3, 7-6 (0), 6-2 rout of Spain's Nicolas Almagro.

Defending champion Gaston Gaudio, among many impressed by Nadal's emergence this year, wondered about those who would dub him "Superman."

"I'm not sure about Superman," Gaudio said. "If you call Nadal 'Superman,' what do you call Federer?"

Women's No. 1 Lindsay Davenport was two points from defeat in the second set, but beat Chinese teenager Shuai Peng 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-0.

Venus Williams, a multi-major champ seeking her first French title, also reached the third round, as did No. 4 Elena Dementieva, two-time runner-up Kim Clijsters and 2000 champion Mary Pierce.