PARIS (Reuters) - American qualifier Sebastian Korda described being schooled by his idol Rafa Nadal on the French Open’s biggest stage on Sunday as the “coolest moment of my life”.
The 20-year-old, ranked 213th in the world but clearly on his way higher, earned several “bravos” from the 34-year-old Spaniard who is chasing his 13th title at Roland Garros.
And despite losing 6-1 6-1 6-2, Korda was full of beans when he spoke later about experiencing the power of the claycourt king at such close quarters after watching him for years on TV.
“It was definitely the best moment of my life,” Korda, who made his Grand Slam debut at the U.S. Open as a wildcard this year, told reporters. “It was super awesome.
“I think after the match I asked him for a signed shirt when we were tapping rackets. I don’t know if anyone’s ever asked him for an autograph after a match, but that was definitely the coolest moment of my life and one I’ll never forget for sure.”
After beating fellow qualifier Pedro Martinez on Friday, Korda, son of 1992 Roland Garros runner-up Petr, revealed that Nadal was the reason he played tennis and that he had named his pet cat after the Spanish great.
His admiration went to another level on Sunday.
“I don’t know, just seeing him across the net. I mean, ever since I was a kid, I mean I was in love with him and everything about him. I would watch every single match,” Korda said.
While he admitted he was “as tight as could be” in the warmup, the tall Korda worried Nadal in the first two games and could have been 2-0 ahead instead of 2-0 down.
After that it was a matter of snatching a few games here and there, although Korda did lead 2-0 in the third set when Nadal briefly lost his focus before reeling off the last six games to reach his 42nd Grand Slam quarter-final.
“The first game was massive for me. Unfortunately I couldn’t close it in the break point,” Korda said.
As if dealing with Nadal’s heavy spins was not enough, Korda also had to tackle a swirling wind in what was only his fourth Tour-level match on a claycourt.
“It was like a tornado sometimes with the wind in there,” he said. “It wasn’t easy at all. I guess that’s where the experience comes from. He’s played on that court a couple of times!”
And did he get his signed shirt as a souvenir of the biggest day of his career so far?
“I have one in my bag right now. So I’m super stoked,” Korda said.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Hugh Lawson
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