Nadal, he said, suffocated and punished opponents, particularly at the French Open, the most grueling of the major tournaments because of its slippery and uneven clay surface.
Federer slashed so many smooth, fast stiletto winners that losing to him felt almost painless.
There are no holes in Novak Djokovic’s game.
To Burgsmüller, they are equals. But every year when the Open rolls around, he remembers young Nadal with particular fondness.
He smiled, recalling the locker room chatter at Roland Garros back in 2005.
The players knew that Nadal, who had established a foothold on the men’s tour but had missed the French Open in the previous year because of an injury, was soon to emerge as one of the best. But that meant a guy who could win a few major titles, not 20 or more.
All Nadal needed to break through, his fellow pros thought, was a little more seasoning.
“I didn’t want to listen to that too much,” said Burgsmüller , ranked No. 96 in the world at the time. “I tried to stay with my plan, to play my game.”
That meant pressing the attack.
He tried, but he quickly sensed that playing Nadal was unlike anything he had ever experienced. He had never faced anyone with such intensity. Or anyone who hit with such devastating topspin. Or anyone better able to sprint across a clay court, slide and stay balanced, and send balls back as scorching replies.
Again and again, Burgsmüller thought he had won a point with a winning shot, only to see Nadal not only keep the point alive but smack back a winner.