'Little Rafa' serves up love

Nine-year-old tennis star Ralph Armstrong, at Sawtell courts.
Nine-year-old tennis star Ralph Armstrong, at Sawtell courts. Trevor Veale

HE'S a pint-sized version of his hero, displaying a killer forehand, quickness and a love for clay courts.

It's no exaggeration that Ralph Armstrong is already starting to show the potential to be the Coffs Coast's own Rafael Nadal.

Nicknamed 'Little Rafa' after his love of the Spanish tennis superstar, the youngster recently took out the Under-10 division of the Sawtell Clay Court Championships.

Ralph's mother Maria Armstrong can't believe how quickly her son's tennis skills have developed.

"Ralph loves his tennis, he is always excited to play and will sit for hours watching his hero, Rafael Nadal, on TV," Armstrong said.

"He practises with his brother Nathan and has to have all the same equipment as Nadal.

"I was always worried that he would have trouble getting the ball over the net because he is so short, but he plays so well."

The Grade 4 student at Mary Help of Christians Primary School was a standout performer in his division at the clay court championships and said the win was one of his best.

"The competition was really hard and all the players were really good," Ralph said.

"I was happy to win because of how tough it was."

Training 10 hours a week at the Sawtell Tennis Club under head coach Eli Bayliss, Armstrong is aspiring to one day play like his idol.

"I love how he (Nadal) plays the game and that is how I try to play," he said. "I like Nadal's character and his bright clothes and he always has fun.

"Hopefully one day I can play at all the big competitions like Nadal and maybe even win one."

Despite his young age Armstrong may reach his goal of playing on Paris's famous clay courts sooner rather than later.

"Ralph has qualified for the Australian finals of a competition called Once Upon A Time in Tennis and the winner of gets to play in Paris," Maria Armstrong said.

"He will have to play in Cairns later this year against some of the best players in his age group.

"He is only young so as long as he has fun that is all that matters."

While 'Little Rafa' is finding success on the court, Ralph is just enjoying playing the game he loves. "I always look forward to the next time I can play," he said.

"Tennis is all about fun and making new friends and that is why I love it."

Topics:  sawtell tennis

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