Korda keeps up family's love affair with Australia

Young American enjoys dream debut Down Under with victory over Norrie.

Sebastian Korda Australian Open 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Reem Abulleil

When Sebastian Korda touched down in Adelaide earlier this month to kick off his 2022 season, the young American was dealt a curveball as he learned he had tested positive for Covid-19.

He withdrew from the Australian Open lead-up events and spent the next week confined in his room, trying to stay active by relying on some gym equipment Tennis Australia sent to his hotel.

It’s hardly the way anyone would want to prepare for the opening Grand Slam of the season but Korda came out of confinement arguably as strong as he entered it, judging by the brutal 6-3, 6-0, 6-4 blow he handed No.12 seed and Indian Wells champion Cameron Norrie in the Australian Open first round on Monday.

“I think I kept myself occupied. I tried to play tennis. It didn't work out in some situations. But, yeah, I kept myself busy all the time and I had a positive mindset on all that was happening and just kept busy and it's working really well for me right now,” said Korda of  his time in isolation.

One of the youngest players in the top 50 in the ATP rankings, Korda grew up in a family of elite athletes whose ability to excel in professional sport appears to be a birth right and a lifestyle.

His father Petr is a former world No.2 tennis player who won the Australian Open in 1998. His sisters Nelly, 23, and Jessica, 28, are both pro golfers, who each won the Women’s Australian Open. Nelly is a major champion, an Olympic gold medallist, and currently sits atop the LPGA rankings.

The youngest Korda put himself on everyone’s radar when he won the Australian Open junior title in 2018, keeping up his family’s tradition of shining Down Under.

“It's always special. A lot of history in the family here in Australia, my dad winning here and then both my sisters winning the Australian women's golf tournament. So it's a lot of success here in Australia and it's always, I'm always super happy to be here,” said the world No.43 on Monday.

“The fans are incredible. The tournament's unbelievable and. Yeah, just really comfortable here and they always make me feel like home here.”

Sebastian Korda Australian Open 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Last year, instead of making the trip to Australia, Korda went to Europe to compete in some smaller tournaments. The decision paid dividends as he clinched the Challenger title in Quimper (France), which earned him a place in the top 100 for the first time.

Things escalated quickly after that as Korda started to show his mettle against higher-ranked opposition, claiming five top-20 victories throughout the course of his 2021 campaign, including two over top-10 opposition.

He made the quarter-finals in Miami, the last 16 at Wimbledon and lifted a maiden ATP title on the clay courts of Parma.

He finished the year ranked inside the top 40 and as the runner-up at the Next Gen ATP Finals.

Sebastian Korda and Carlos Alcaraz posing with their 2021 NextGen ATP Finals trophies© Georgio Maiozzi/Uthopia/FFT

“Just keep going on the trajectory that I am,” said Korda when asked about his mindset this season. “I'm putting in a lot of work. I'll go weeks where I'm not playing good tournament tennis, but I'm always positive and I'm always looking at the bigger picture. And, yeah, just trying to have fun. I'm doing something that I love and I'm just really enjoying it.

“I always have a goal. Last year was to finish the year top 50, and this year I would love to push it a little bit more and finish the year top 30, 25. I got a long way to go. But, yeah, it's pretty possible with how I'm playing and just everything going on.”

What makes Korda standout among a strong group of young American players is his ability to perform on the sport’s biggest stages. The Floridian made the fourth round at Roland-Garros in 2020 in just his second Grand Slam appearance and in total has made the second week twice in just five major outings.

His compatriot Tommy Paul described Korda’s game as “so clean”.

“Fun to watch. I like watching him play a lot,” added Paul, who is a former Roland-Garros junior champion. “He had my number last year, so definitely one of my goals this year is to get a W over him. A good player, really good player all around, fun to watch.”

There is a healthy competition among the American crew on tour and many believe Korda, who is currently US No.6, will soon be the leader of the pack.

"He's got the game, the belief, the composure - he's got it all, actually. Things can only get better," John McEnroe told the BBC during Korda’s run to the Wimbledon fourth round last year.

Korda believes he is greatly benefitting from the on-court rivalries developing between himself and his fellow Americans.

“I think we're all pushing each other,” he states.

“There's always an American pushing going further in tournaments, so it's inspiring for all of us, it's like a little competition between us and it was great to see Taylor (Fritz) finishing the year the way that he did, he's playing some incredible tennis, and Reilly (Opelka) playing in Toronto, Jenson Brooksby, (Brandon) Nakashima, Tommy Paul. I think there's a little competitiveness in all of us and we're all pushing each other and I think it's a great thing for ourselves and American tennis in general.”

During the offseason, Korda came face to face with American sporting royalty as his sister Nelly got him the opportunity to meet and take a photo with Tiger Woods at the the PNC Championship.

Korda was understandably star-struck and explained how big of a deal Woods is to his family.

“He's got like just this presence about him that you can just feel it. My sister, they were stuck on the tee box on one of the holes because everybody was trying to drive the green, so everybody was just waiting, and he kind of like rolled you know and he was just waiting there with Justin Thomas and you could just feel that and I was just so nervous,” said Korda.

“And then Nelly, my sister, absolutely loves Tiger. My whole family does. Every single time he would be playing we would be glued to the TV watching. We would always support him. And yeah, just, it was just, it was a funny situation, you know? I was grateful to get a picture with him and to watch him golf for the first time was really cool as well.”

After notching the sixth top-20 win of his career with his Australian Open debut victory over Norrie, Korda next takes on French lefty Corentin Moutet in round two on Wednesday.