Korda Dazzles Everyone In His Antwerp Victory

Sebastian Korda (photo: Belga/European Open)

ANTWERP/WASHINGTON, October 21, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Sebastian Korda showed an impressive level of tennis that was as brutal as it was dazzling. In just 52 minutes, the 22-year-old American from Bradenton, Fla. beat No. 8 seed Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan with a variety of weapons. He attacked with overhead smashes, hit powerful baseline returns that were effective – even surprised his opponent with an occasional serve-and-volley strategy. Time and again, the fans inside Lotto Arena showed their appreciation by applauding Korda. They knew they were witnessing a remarkable performance.

Nishioka took a battering – never really had a chance – as the 36th-ranked Korda won 6-0, 6-2, winning on his first match point with a laser-sharp backhand lob winner. Korda’s 30th winner of the quarterfinal lofted itself brilliantly over the Japanese player’s head as it was intended and landed safely inside the baseline. Korda’s 33rd tour-level victory lifted him into his second straight ATP Tour semifinal berth.

“You never really feeling you are in control when you’re playing Yoshi – he’s very tricky and he fights to the end,” Korda said in his on-court interview. “It was a difficult match but I am very happy.”

For the first 24 minutes and six games, Korda played near-flawless tennis. It seemed no matter what Nishioka tried, it wasn’t good enough. Korda won 91 percent of his first-serve points, dropping just a single first-serve point along the way, and broke his opponent three times. He would break his 39th-ranked opponent twice more in the second set and outpointed him 58-23 in the end. He won all but two of his 24 first-serve points.

“I’m a big person, you know, so I should have a good serve,” said Korda, who struck eight aces and did not face any break points. “I’m working really hard on it and it’s really paying off right now.”

Calmly and with great confidence, Korda won the first seven games of the first quarterfinal match of the day and showed why the autumn indoor season is his favorite time of the year on the tennis calendar. The victory improved his indoor win-loss record to 11-3, highlighted by his run to the finals at Gijón, Spain last week.

Now, the 22-year-old Korda is through to his second straight semifinal and third of the season. “I’m enjoying my time here very much,” he said. “It’s my first time here in Belgium. I’m really enjoying it – my first semifinal – and I hope I can keep it going.”

Thiem’s run at Antwerp continues with thrilling win against Hurkacz

Coming into their quarterfinal, Dominic Thiem‘s run in Antwerp had elevated his position in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings seven places in his quest to break back into the Top 100 after missing nine months on Tour due to a wrist injury. However, the former World No. 3 and 17-time tour-level champion would need to raise the level of his game if he were to beat top seed Hubert Hurkacz.

On Friday afternoon, the World No. 11 from Poland put together a series of solid service games throughout the match but it wasn’t enough to beat the 132nd Thiem. Instead, the Austrian star rallied after a shaky first set and won 3-6, 7-6 (9), 7-6 (4), in two hours and 58 minutes to advance to Saturday’s semifinals against Sebastian Korda.

“I’m 0-3 against him,” Thiem said Thursday after his three-set, second-round win over No. 6 seed Francisco Cerundolo. “For two years he has been [one of] the world’s best, especially indoors. Unbelievable serve, we just played three or four weeks ago in Metz, where he had a pretty easy win against me, and I hope I can make it more difficult for him … and be able to make another step ahead.”

Thiem did just that but it took him a while to get the job done. By the end, though, he had given everything physically and mentally that he had. It was worth it.

From the start, Hurkacz wasted no time in breaking Thiem in the Austrian’s first service game of the match and built upon it, grabbing the opening set 6-3 behind seven aces and 12 winners. However, Thiem showed his resiliency in the next set by exuding great fight in pulling out a second-set tie-break 11-9, in which he saved three match points and won on his third set-point opportunity with a forehand running volley winner to send the quarterfinal on to a decider.

“The start was tough because [Hubert] was playing great, great tennis – one of the great serves in the game,” Thiem said on court in his interview. “Starting with a break down is not good at all. Then, I started getting into the match, feeling more and more comfortable. The first win against a player as good as Hubert – a great guy – is special to me.”

On serve through the first 10 games of the final set, in which each player saved the only break point they faced while hitting winner after winner, the showdown took on the character of a chess match. Both Hurkacz and Thiem looked to conserve their energy and be content to let a tie-break decide the outcome. In the meantime, Hurkacz kept firing service aces past Thiem – he reached 17 by the 11th game changeover – and by holding serve, assured himself of doing no worse than playing a tie-breaker. Thiem countered with an easy hold at 15 and it was on to the tie-break.

At the outset, Thiem proved himself as the steadier player and he jumped ahead 4-1 by breaking Hurkacz twice while hitting a blistering backhand winner from downtown Antwerp that brought excitement to the crowd. Soon, Thiem increased his lead to 5-2 as the finish line seemed to come into focus. He gained a match point at 6-2 after Hurkacz hit a forehand long. However, the Polish star saved a pair of match points that narrowed Thiem’s lead to 6-4. Finally, Thiem won on his third match point with a stunning, fifth-shot forehand winner that Hurkacz gave everything to save by doing the splits but to no avail.

It was a massive win for Thiem, who proved his mettle first by saving a trio of match points, then raised his level in the tie-break. His stunning winner at the end – his 36th of the quarterfinal match – rewarded him with the biggest win of his comeback. Only one point separated the two competitors. At the end, Thiem outpointed Hurkacz, who countered with 47 winners but made 30 unforced errors, 110-109.

“This victory is especially unbelievable because it’s the first victory against an almost-Top-10 guy in my comeback process,” Thiem said on court afterward. “It was unbelievable to play in a great atmosphere, close match here. …

“Indoors, especially against someone who is serving that great, it’s about little details and margins,” Thiem added. “Today the luck was on my side on that match point. The match could easily have been gone, but it’s like that at the highest level and I’m very happy in general to even get to those close situations again. Today it went my way and I have to enjoy it.”

Friday’s European Open results

Saturday’s European Open order of play

Around the European Open

In Friday’s evening session, World No. 58 David Goffin of Belgium, the only remaining of the three Belgians who began in the main draw, was denied his second ATP Tour semifinal of the year – and first on a hard court since 2021 at Montpellier – after falling to No. 82 Richard Gasquet of France, 6-2, 7-6 (6).

Like Goffin, Gasquet was also seeking his second tour-level semifinal of the season. The 2016 European Open champion struck 26 winners, won 80 percent of his second-serve points and saved all six break points he faced from Goffin and outpointed his opponent 82-68. The 31-year-old Belgian, who has never won the Antwerp title, still leads the career head-to-head with Gasquet 3-2.

In the last quarterfinal, No. 2 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada was successful in chasing after his sixth ATP Tour semifinal of 2022 (3-2) against No. 5 seed Daniel Evans of Great Britain, ranked 26th. The World No. 10 from Montreal came in on a five-match winning streak after capturing his second career ATP Tour title in Florence last week, and rallied to defeat Evans, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2. Evans dropped to 1-6 against Top 10 players this season.

Auger-Aliassime served nine aces and struck 40 winners against 18 unforced errors and outpointed the Briton 97-88. Evans countered with 22 winners to 12 unforced errors.

By the numbers

Dominic Thiem has reached three ATP Tour semifinals this season, two of them on hard courts after reaching the semifinal in Gijón last week. He is now No. 112 on the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings and would need to reach the title match in Antwerp to return into the Top 100.

“Quotable …”

“I try to play my best every time I step on the court. I’m happy with the way I’ve been playing lately, so hopefully I keep going like this this whole tournament.”

– Second seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada during his on-court interview after his second-round win over France’s Manuel Guinard on Thursday.