The 20-year-old is a two-time ATP Challenger Tour champion

“Rafa, you put me on tennis!”

Arthur Cazaux developed a love for tennis at a young age, when he was sitting at his home in southern France watching the-then 19-year-old Rafael Nadal compete at Roland Garros.

Little did Cazaux know that the Spaniard would someday become one of the sport’s greatest players and the Montpellier native would be a professional tennis player himself.

Becoming a pro was a childhood dream for the #NextGenATP Frenchman, who is making rapid progress on the ATP Challenger Tour.

“My first tennis memory was when I was three years old and I watched Roland Garros on TV. Nobody in my family played tennis, but I watched Roland Garros with my father and I saw a Rafael Nadal match,” Cazaux told the ATP Challenger Tour media team. “I don’t know why but I was shocked. I fell in love with tennis and Rafael Nadal. Since that day, I’ve played tennis and I’ll never give up.

“I met [Rafa] in 2018 at the Roland Garros gym, I took a picture with him. It was my first junior Grand Slam, and I saw him. I was like, ‘I must take a picture with him!’ It was a big memory. Rafa, you put me on tennis!”

The 22-time major champion Nadal is not the only sporting legend that Cazaux idolises. He is also a big fan of basketball players Stephen Curry and the late Kobe Bryant.

“Kobe was one of my first idols, I was a big fan of his mentality in everything,” Cazaux said. “I tattooed a black mamba on my arm because [of his] ‘black mamba’ mentality.”

Cazaux is part of a promising list of young French stars that are making an impact early in their careers. The 2020 Australian Open boys’ singles finalist is one of three Frenchmen in the Top 10 of the Pepperstone ATP Live Next Gen Race: Arthur Fils (4th), Luca Van Assche (6th), Cazaux (7th).

The 20-year-old Cazaux started the year on a 13-match winning streak (including qualifying) and claimed his second Challenger title in Nonthaburi, Thailand. This past week, Cazaux enjoyed a breakthrough run to the final at the Nottingham Challenger, where he fell short to three-time major champion Andy Murray.

“It was my first week on grass courts, it was a great feeling to play my first professional tournament on grass,” Cazaux said. “It was a long way to the final because I started from the qualies. In the last round of qualies, it was very tough because I played a British wild card [Daniel Cox] and I won 7-6 in the third, it was a tough match.

“I played at a very good level and it was a wonderful week. To reach the final against Andy Murray was the best final.”

Despite playing his first grass-court swing, Cazaux has continued his early success on the surface. On Thursday, he reached the semi-finals of the Lexus Ilkley Trophy after Sho Shimabukuro was forced to retire in the second set.

Cazaux will next meet Australian Jason Kubler in the last four Friday.