'I named my cat after Rafa': Korda purrs over Nadal ahead of Roland Garros clash

Paris (AFP) –


Sebastian Korda developed such a bromance with Rafael Nadal that he once named his cat after the Spanish superstar.

Now he gets the chance to take on the world number two in an unlikely Roland Garros last-16 duel on Sunday.

"Growing up, I named my cat Rafa after him. That says a lot about how much I love the guy," said Korda after seeing off Spain's Pedro Martinez 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 in Friday's third round.

Korda is ranked a lowly 213 in the world and is making his Paris debut having come through qualifying.

Prior to this week, he had never won a match on the main tour.

However, sport runs deep in his DNA. His father Petr won the Australian Open in 1998 having been runner-up in Paris six years earlier.

His mother Regina Rajchrtova is a former top 30 WTA player while sisters Nelly and Jessica are respectively the world number two and 22 on the LPGA golf rankings.

Just last month, Nelly agonisingly missed out on a first major of her own, losing a play-off to Lee Mi-rim at the ANA Inspiration in California.

"I was watching it at like 12:30 in the morning in Prague. I think my heart rate at the time was 87 or something like that. I have a picture from it. I was just completely stressed out," said Korda of his sister's near-miss.

Korda is a former world junior number one who has modelled himself on Nadal, the 12-time Roland Garros champion who is chasing a record-equalling 20th major.

- 'He's my biggest idol' -

"He's my biggest idol. He's one of the reasons I play tennis," Korda said of Nadal.

"Just watching him play, unbelievable competitor. Just from him I have the never-give-up mentality. Whenever I'm on court, I try to be like him."

Nadal has only ever lost twice at Roland Garros. His 95-minute, 6-1, 6-4, 6-0 demolition of Italy's Stefano Travaglia on Friday was his 96th win at the tournament.

Korda, 20, initially toyed with becoming an ice hockey player rather than a tennis pro but he caught the bug when he watched Radek Stepanek face Novak Djokovic in the fourth round of the 2009 US Open.

"It was on Ashe stadium, 10:30 at night, totally packed. I thought it was the coolest thing. Went home, came back the next year and said, This is exactly what I want to do. The rest is history," he said.

Nadal said he was "happy to hear that" when informed that Korda had named his cat after him and that he was the American's idol.

"It means that I have been on the TV for such a long time, that's the main thing. The same like when I was a kid, I was watching Sampras, Agassi, Carlos Moya, et cetera.

"I know he's playing great. He's a very young kid with a lot of power. I think he has an amazing future - hopefully not yet."

With Nadal having dropped just nine games in his last two rounds, the likelihood is that Korda's run in Paris will end Sunday.

However, he has his sights on future family bragging rights.

"My dad is incredibly supportive. But my goal in life is to win two Grand Slams so I have one more than he has!" he said.