Korda Tames Wind And Kokkinakis At Delray Beach

Sebastian Korda (photo: Andrew Patron/Delray Beach Open)

DELRAY BEACH, FLA./WASHINGTON, February 16, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Sebastian Korda balanced himself against gusty winds and a stingy opponent. He stayed the course for a straight-set win over 94th-ranked Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia at the Delray Beach Open by VITACOST.com Tuesday evening.

The 21-year-old Bradenton, Fla. resident and 2021 finalist beat Kokkinakis, 6-4, 6-1, in 75 minutes. The fifth-seeded Korda closed out his first-round victory with his fourth ace against the 25-year-old Aussie. The outcome was never really in doubt as Korda jumped out to identical 3-0 leads at the start of each set and proved to be the steadier of the two young players.

“I’m a Florida boy, so I’m used to this wind,” Korda said during his on-court interview.

The 43rd-ranked Korda won 71 percent (24 of 34) of his first-serve points compared to Kokkinakis’s 59 percent (16 of 27). Perhaps, the big difference in the outcome was Korda’s ability to break his opponent’s serve, which he did four times in eight tries. He was broken just once. Korda outpointed Kokkinakis 61-41 by effectively doing the things he does well such as hitting crisp returns. It added up to a comprehensive win for Korda and the American moves on to Wednesday’s second round against No. 123 Andreas Seppi of Italy, the oldest player in the draw at age 37.

We’ve played a lot in the last couple of years,” Korda said of Seppi. “I have a pretty good record against him.” Indeed, he’s beaten the Italian veteran twice on clay in the past two years, at Roland Garros in 2020 and last year during a title run in Parma. This will be their first meeting on a hard court.

“Hopefully I can play some good tennis, and a little less wind,” Korda said.

Looking back, Korda’s 31-18 breakout season began after he reached his first ATP Tour final in Delray Beach last year. He went on to win his first tour-level title at a clay-court event in Parma, Italy that was a tune-up for the French Open and later finished runner up at the Next Gen ATP Finals. After achieving a career-high ranking of No. 38, Korda ended the year ranked 41st.

Now, Korda is back and playing in only his second event of the season and first since reaching the third round at Australian Open. He was forced to miss tune-up events in Adelaide due to testing positive for COVID-19.

Last year, ranked 119th, Korda strung together wins over Soon Woo Kwon, Tommy Paul, John Isner and Cameron Norrie en route to advancing to his first ATP Tour title match against Hubert Hurkacz. Although he lost the final, 6-3, 6-3, to Hurkacz, Korda improved his ranking to No. 103 and, soon after, broke into the Top 100 and has never looked back.

After losing to Hurkacz, Korda said: “I’m always learning and it’s always a process. Playing in my first ATP 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.”

Special win for South Floridian Kozlov

Lucky loser Emilio Gomez of Ecuador, son of 1990 Roland Garros champion Andres Gomez, was a late addition to the main draw replacing No. 6 seed Jenson Brooksby of the United States, who took ill Tuesday after losing the Dallas Open final two days earlier. The 149th-ranked Gomez faced 151st-ranked qualifier Stefan Kozlov of the United States, a 24-year-old Macedonian-born American who grew up in nearby Pembroke Pines, Fla.

The lucky loser and the qualifier battled for two hours and 41 minutes in a match that could have gone either way. Finally, after being a set and 4-1 down, Kozlov prevailed in the final set by breaking Gomez in the second game and consolidating it for a 3-0 lead. Then, he saved four break points in a gutsy manner while trying to serve out the match in the ninth game. It proved the difference for Kozlov, who won 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 to advance to the next round.

After turning pro as a teenager in 2013, Kozlov won a trio of ATP Challenger Tour titles last year in Columbus, Ohio; Charlottesville, Va.; and Champaign, Ill., Now, he’s trying to find his way on the main Tour through a sense of belief and with the right attitude. His comeback victory over Gomez points him in the right direction.

“Growing up in Pembroke Pines and living in Delray Beach the last five years, this is one of my favorite places to be,” Kozlov said during his on-court interview. “It’s such an honor to come out here and enjoy the crowds, enjoy the court and enjoy the win. I put it all together and had some fun.”

With the victory, Kozlov gained his second tour-level win of the season and seventh of his career on his second match-point opportunity after Gomez hit a backhand long that ended an eight-shot rally. Kozlov outpointed Gomez 108-93.

When Kozlov was asked if playing a different opponent on short notice changed his mindset, he answered:

“Yeah, I was looking forward to playing [Jenson] Brooksby. We were going to hack a couple of backhand slices and run each other. Then, I heard a couple of hours before the match that I was playing Emilio. It changed the game plan a lot.

“I train here with Kevin [Anderson] all the time,” Kozlov added. “Playing two qualifying matches here got me used to the court and the wind and the heat.”

After winning two rounds of qualifying over the weekend to reach the main draw, then gaining a hard-fought victory, Kozlov will play 99th-ranked American Steve Johnson in the second round Wednesday afternoon.

Former champions Querrey, Sock in action

Former Delray Beach Open champions Sam Querrey (2016) and Jack Sock (2017) headlined Tuesday’s second-day schedule. Querrey, 34, faced 35-year-old qualifier Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan to begin the afternoon, then Sock took on Daniel Altmaier of Germany to wrap up Tuesday’s evening session.

The 117th-ranked Querrey came into his match with qualifier Istomin on a nine-match losing streak – the longest of his career – searching for his first win since Wimbledon last summer. Meanwhile, the 267th-ranked Istomin, who has mostly toiled on the Challenger Tour circuit the past few years, had been winless in five tour-level matches since Gstaad in 2019 while failing to make it out of qualifying in 10 other tour-level tournaments. His current ranking is at its lowest since 2007.

As it happened, Istomin won 6-1, 7-6 (5) in an hour and 11 minutes to advance, while the confidence-lacking Querrey has now dropped 10 matches in a row. Istomin won 85 percent (34 of 40) of his first-serve points to snap his winless drought after his opponent saved a couple of match points with a pair of aces to force a second-set tie-break. Next, Istomin will play No. 4 seed Tommy Paul of the United States Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, the 141st-ranked Sock has enjoyed past success on the Delray Beach Tennis Center courts, winning the 2017 singles title and twice winning doubles crowns (with James Blake in 2013 and Jackson Withrow in 2018). This year, entered with a wild card, he continued his winning ways Tuesday evening against Altmaier. Sock prevailed 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in two hours and eight minutes. This was his  second meeting in three months against the No. 82 Altmaier, after losing to the German in the quarterfinal round of the Knoxville Challenger last November. Next, Sock will play 20th-ranked fellow American and No. 2 seed Reilly Opelka on Thursday.

Around the Delray Beach Open

• No. 7 seed Adrian Mannarino, a quarterfinalist last week at the Dallas Open, advanced to the second round in Delray Beach with a 6-2, 6-3 win over 116th-ranked qualifier Liam Broady of Great Britain. He took advantage of five service breaks and won 57 percent of Broady’s second serves. Mannarino’s next opponent will be No. 81 Brandon Nakashima of the United States on Thursday.

Mitchell Krueger of the United States upset No. 83 Jordan Thompson of Australia, 6-2, 6-4, to advance to the second round. The 164th-ranked qualifier saved all three break points he faced and broke Thompson’s serve three times during the one-hour and 21-minute first-round match. Next, Krueger will face 26th-ranked No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria Thursday evening.

• No. 64 Marcos Giron, a semifinalist at Dallas last week, defeated No. 161 Tennys Sandgren, 7-5, 6-3, in an all-American matchup. Giron did not face any break points and outpointed Sandgren 71-58. Next, he will face No. 91 John Millman of Australia on Thursday.

Anderson inducted into Delray Beach Open Walk of Fame

South Africa’s Kevin Anderson, who is a Delray Beach resident with his wife Kelsey and young daughter Keira, was indicted into the Delray Beach Open by VITACOST.com Walk of Fame following his first-round match against Steve Johnson on Monday night.

The 2012 champion and 2014 finalist, who received the Key to the City in 2018, has made nine appearances in the Delray Beach tournament and holds the third-most victories among active players in tournament history.

Tuesday’s Delray Beach Open results

Wednesday’s Delray Beach order of play

By the numbers

• In John Millman‘s first-round 6-7 (2), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (3) win over Maxime Cressy Monday, his first career win at Delray Beach in four tries, he became the first player since Peter Gojowczyk in 2018 to win a match in the tournament with three tie-breaks.

• Despite bowing in the opening round, Thanasi Kokkinakis is off to an impressive 8-3 start, all on outdoor hard courts. The 25-year-old Australian won his first tour-level singles title last month at the Adelaide International 2 after reaching the semifinals of the Adelaide International 1 in his hometown. Also, he teamed with Nick Kyrgios to win the Australian Open men’s doubles title.

“Quotable …”

“My match was tough. The surface looked easy but it was not easy. The conditions were very difficult with the wind. I think Sam with his serve was trying to find the rhythm and I was returning his serve well. … In the second set, I was trying to return every point. The only chance to win was to put the ball in play. I did well in the tie-break.

“I’m enjoying being on the court; I’m not young any more!”

Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan, 35, commenting on the challenge of the windy court conditions and about his age.