Korda feline the love ahead of dream Nadal duel

 - Alex Sharp

The 20-year-old qualifier has marked his Parisian main draw debut by reaching the fourth round.

Sebastian Korda is now officially the “happiest person on the planet”.

The American debutant has booked his dream Roland-Garros encounter.

Korda swatted aside fellow qualifier Pedro Martinez 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 on Friday and his reward is a last-16 encounter with 12-time champion Rafael Nadal.

“He's my biggest idol. He's one of the reasons I play tennis. 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,” declared world No.213 Korda, before revealing a special connection to Nadal.

“Growing up, I named my cat ‘Rafa’ after him. That says a lot about how much I love the guy. 

“It won't be easy. I mean, I'll be the happiest person on planet earth if I do get to play him.”

You probably recognise the name, because Sebastian’s dad Petr is the 1998 Australian Open champion and 1992 finalist at Roland-Garros. 

Nadal remembers watching Petr on TV as a youngster and is well aware of Sebastian’s threat and potential.

“Well, that means that I have been on the TV for such a long time, that's the main thing,” joked the world No.2, hearing the news regarding Korda’s cat. “The same like when I was a kid, I was watching Sampras, Agassi, Carlos Moya, et cetera.

“Another negative thing that mean is that I am 34! That's another point that is not beautiful. But, happy to hear that. 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.” 

Sebastian's early progression into tennis was moulded by his mother Regina, a former world No.26, before dad Petr concentrated on the coaching side.

Whilst Korda embraces his tight-knit family, the 20-year-old is also targeting the household bragging rights. 

“My dad, he's incredibly supportive. But my goal in life is to win two Grand Slams so I have one more than he has. That's what I'm going for,” said the Next Gen American with a smile.

“Both my parents are incredible. With the way that everything is going right now, they're super proud. I can't be more grateful for them.”

Korda has learned a lot from his dad’s on-court successes, but urges caution with the hype and expectations building to a crescendo ahead of taking on Nadal. 

“I've seen pretty much a lot of his matches. We have a couple tapes at home. When I was a kid, I would watch those a lot,” continued the Australian Open 2019 junior champion.

“What I've been saying to myself and everybody is just patience, keep building my body brick by brick. Just keep going the way I'm doing it right now.” 

So self-assured, so composed on the court, Korda is taking his Grand Slam breakthrough in his strides as all sorts of records tumble. 

He’s the first men's qualifier into the fourth round in Paris since 2011 and the youngest American man to reach this stage since a 19-year-old Michael Chang back in 1991.

It’s a spectacular Roland-Garros debut, with his mental strength probed following an awkwardly-timed rain delay at 4-1 in the third set on Friday. 

Back on court, a swift warm-up and Korda clattered through two games to clinch his ticket to take on Nadal. Adversity is not a problem.

“It’s about staying calm. One of my coaches from the USTA, Dean Goldfine, he always said to just weather the storm. That is all I just kept saying to myself. I couldn't be prouder of myself just staying in there and keeping a positive mindset.”

To complete the quartet of sporting talent in the Korda household, Sebastian’s sisters are world class golfers, with Nelly ranked No.2 and Jessica at No.22.

You guessed it, Sebastian is pretty handy with a club in his hand too.  

“I played a lot of golf during the time at home. I don't know, probably like a three or two handicap. I golfed a lot my whole life. My dad is a club champion where we live. So, yeah, we're all pretty good golfers,” he said.

Korda will hope to find the fairway on the weekend to give his hero Nadal his very best.