WASHINGTON, January 25, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)
One of the first things that Sebastian Korda reveals about himself is how grounded he is during virtual interviews. Whether he walks off the tennis court having won or lost, the soft-spoken NextGen American rising star always comes across as both polite and charming. There’s a perpetual a smile on Korda’s face.
Lately, the 20-year-old Korda, who turned professional in 2018, has had a lot to smile about. Earlier this month, he reached his first ATP Tour final at the Delray Beach Open by VITACOST.com, an ATP 250 outdoor hard-court event. While his dream week in Florida didn’t include a dream-ending first ATP Tour singles title, after losing to Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz in straight sets, it did translate into Korda achieving a career-best ranking of No. 103. All in all, it was a solid begining to the 2021 season for Korda, who began the year ranked 119th.
“I always handle things pretty well,” said Korda, following the Delray Beach Open final. “In 2019, I lost in the final of the last tournament of the year in a Challenger with a couple of match points against J.J. Wolf, and if I had won that match, I would have gotten into the  Australian Open qualifying draw.
“It’s always a step in the right direction and I always take the positives out of things and I’ll have no problem dealing with this. For me, it’s only a big plus. I’m going to go back. I’m going to go work hard and just trust my tennis and keep doing the things I’m doing.”
Looking back, Korda recorded his first ATP Tour win on American soil on Jan. 7 when he beat then-No. 95 Soon Woo Kwon of South Korea, 6-4, 6-4, with a great effort in which he toughed out the big moments. Then, in the second round, he beat 52nd-ranked fellow American Tommy Paul, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, to set up a quarterfinal showdown with American No. 1 John Isner, ranked 25th. Korda withstood 13 service aces from Isner while capturing 82 percent of his first serves en route to a satisfying and hard-fought 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory. He continued his run to the final the next day with a 6-3, 7-5 triumph over No. 74 Cameron Norrie of Great Britain to advance to his first ATP Tour title match.
— Delray Beach Open (@DelrayBeachOpen) January 13, 2021
After beginning his ATP Tour career in 2020 with a trio of victories last fall as a 213th-ranked qualifier at Roland Garros, Korda was off and running, performing in front of his family and a small group of friends in his home state of Florida – and winning impressively. His luck ran out against the 35th-ranked Hurkacz during a 6-3, 6-3 loss in which Korda struggled with his service games, especially after taking a medical time out during the third-game change over in the second set to have his left groin bandaged. He won only 61 percent of his first serves, was broken four times and Hurkacz outpointed him 60-45. Korda chalked it all up as a good learning experience.
“I played some really good, top players … and only good things are going to come from this,” said Korda, whose all-court game is reminiscent of former Russian great Marat Safin. As Korda explained during one of his virtual news conferences in Delray Beach in talking about Safin: “He’s always been one of my favorite players and I’ve tried to model my backhand [shot] after him when I was a kid. He had a lot of cool and swagger on the court.”
— Tennis Channel (@TennisChannel) January 13, 2021
Win or lose is a building-block experience
As Korda sees it, every experience – win or lose – is a building block experience in his journey to where he wants to be. While rankings numbers are something everyone likes to focus attention upon, Korda said he simply wants to improve and become a better player. Although it’s been just three months since Korda won his first ATP Challenger title at Eckental, Germany, on indoor carpet, he’s shown that he’s a much-improved player. Indeed, Korda has come a long way since losing six ITF and two Challenger finals earlier during his brief pro career.
When Korda was asked by Tennis TourTalk after his second-round victory against Paul to describe the difference between playing against Challenger Tour-caliber competition and against established players on the ATP Tour, the former junior World No. 1 said: “The consistency of the guys. In the Challengers, you can always get one or two easier rounds, but here every match – every point of every game – is super tough. Everyone is mentally focused.
“For sure, to break the Top 100 by the end of the year and be a consistent player at these bigger tournaments would be a super big thing for me to get used to this atmosphere and these players,” said Korda. “It would be super cool, but everything is a process and for me, I’m still 20 years old. So, this year is still all about learning and working hard.”
— Tennis Channel (@TennisChannel) January 13, 2021
Korda comes from a tight-knit, athletic family
The native of Bradenton, Fla. comes a from an athletic family. The tall and lanky, 6-foot-5 170-pound Korda is the son of his coach, Petr, who peaked at No. 2 on the ATP Tour. His mother, Regina, was a Top 30 player on the WTA Tour, and his older sisters, Nelly and Jessica, are pro golfers on the LPGA Tour. Jessica won her sixth career title Sunday at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. and Sebi, as he is called among his family and friends, gave props to his sister on his social media platforms Sunday.
The Kordas are a close-knit family, and throughout Sebi’s run to the Delay Beach Open final, his parents and sisters were captured often by TV cameras sitting in a courtside box enthusiastically cheering for him. “I always went to my sisters’ golf tournaments and it was always me and my parents on the outside,” he explained. “It’s super cool to see my whole family sitting in a box.
“I’ve dreamed about playing Grand Slams and seeing my family up there supporting me ever since I was a little kid. Envisioning these things has always been super special and to see it coming true now, all the hard work and all the time that I’ve put into doing what I love, it’s finally paying off. Hopefully, I can keep going on the same path that I’m going on right now.”
— Sebastian Korda (@SebiKorda) January 13, 2021
Next stop: Back to the Challenger Tour
Now, Korda has arrived in Quimper, France, after completing a training block in the Czech Republic following his runner-up finish in Delray Beach nearly two weeks ago. He’s ready to go in the Open Quimper Bretagne Occidentale, an ATP Challenger 100 indoor hard-court event, where he’s seeded second behind No. 74 Lucas Pouille of France. On Tuesday, Korda defeated 249th-ranked French qualifier Tristan Lamasine, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 7-6 (7), in a first-round match to improve to 5-1 in 2021. He secured the victory on his sixth match-point opportunity in two hours and 35 minutes after saving one match point during the third-set tie break. In the past 12 months, he’s 11-2 against players ranked outside the Top 200 and he’ll face another opponent ranked outside the Top 200 in the second round in Mathias Bourgue of France, ranked 214th.
At a time when much attention throughout the tennis world is focused on the upcoming Australian Open, Korda is happy to be removed from the limelight of the Australian summer, where he can focus on playing as many matches as possible. When Tennis TourTalk recently asked him about his upcoming 2021 schedule, Korda said his plans are to play back-to-back Challengers in Quimper followed by a Challenger event in Cherbourg, France. Then, he said, he would like to try to qualify for either the ATP 500 Rotterdam or ATP 250 Marseille events. Afterward, Korda will return to North America to play outdoors in Acapulco and at the Miami Open, ATP 500 and Masters 1000 events, respectively. It’s going to be a busy couple of months, but Korda doesn’t want to have any other way.
— Next Gen ATP Finals (@nextgenfinals) January 18, 2021
“I’m always learning; it’s always a process,” he said. “I’m only 20 years old. Playing in my first ATP Tour final is something I’ll always cherish. It will remind me of what I need to do next time I get an opportunity to play in a final.
“Every single day, it’s [small] steps in building myself toward the future. This year’s it’s all about learning and working hard. It’s one day at a time and I’m super happy with how I’m playing.”