After dropping just five games to cruise past Stefano Travaglia 6-1, 6-4, 6-0 at Roland Garros on Friday, Rafael Nadal took a moment to praise his next opponent: #NextGenATP American Sebastian Korda.
The 20-year-old, who named his cat after the 12-time Roland Garros champion, admitted he was ‘praying’ for his idol Nadal to beat Travaglia after becoming the first qualifier to reach the fourth round in Paris since 2011. Nadal’s response to hearing of his next opponent’s admiration was to reflect on his own memories of being in a similar position.
“[Being his idol] 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,” said Nadal. “Another negative thing is that [means] I am 34. That’s another point that is not beautiful… 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.”
Nadal converted six of seven break points on Friday to book his meeting against Korda after just one hour and 35 minutes. The 12-time champion was particularly impressive behind his second serve, dropping just three points behind his second delivery (14/17) to reach the Round of 16 in Paris for the 15th time.
“Today I played against an opponent that was playing, I think, very well. [He played] a very good tournament in Rome, and already here winning two good matches against Pablo Andujar and against Nishikori,” said Nadal.
“I went on court with the highest respect, just with the goal to play my best. [Today, I made] a step forward in a lot of ways. I think he played a great second set [that] was close. I was able to find a way [and I am] happy for that. I don’t feel that I am that dominant. The result says [this], but the game is another story. Every single match is a challenge.
Nadal is yet to drop a set in Paris this year. The 85-time tour-level titlist also earned straight-sets wins against Egor Gerasimov and Mackenzie McDonald to reach the third round. Nadal is aiming to match Roger Federer’s record haul of 20 Grand Slam titles by winning his 13th trophy in Paris this year.
Nadal made a dominant start under the roof on Court Philippe-Chatrier. The 12-time champion dropped just six points in the first set, winning five of the seven games to love. Nadal dictated rallies with his forehand to gain his second break at 4-1 and ended the set with a forehand winner up the line to earn his 12th consecutive point.
A far more competive second set followed, but Nadal still managed to find a way through his opponent. The Spaniard played with aggression on his backhand side at 3-3 to gain a crucial advantage, before serving out the set to love three games later with a powerful serve up the T.
Nadal cruised to victory in the final set, earning three more service breaks to serve for his place in the Round of 16 at 5-0. On his first match point, the second seed moved up the court and struck a forehand volley winner. Nadal punched the air in celebration, following his 18th win in 22 matches this year.
“The score is because I did a lot of things well,” said Nadal. “I played more aggressive than the previous days so I am very happy for that. I went to the net more often and I hit quite a lot of winners, my serve is working better. So let’s see. I need to keep going and hope to keep improving with every single day.”
Nadal will be hoping his next opponent does not hit the heights his father reached when they meet on Sunday. Korda’s dad is former World No. 2 Petr Korda, who advanced to the 1992 final in Paris when Nadal was just six years old. But if he does, at least Nadal remembers the Czech’s game.
“I saw [Petr] play on the TV a lot of times,” said Nadal. “Even if I was young, I [have been] playing tennis since I [was] three years old. I was following tennis on TV. Of course, I know his father. I know how good he was.”