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Sebastian Korda on his next steps: “I’m going to work hard and trust my tennis”
American Sebastian Korda took a big step this week in Delray Beach by reaching his first ATP final. Now the 20-year-old American prepares the next steps as he prepares to head to Europe for a spin on the challenger circuit.
Sebastian Korda hit the wall midway through the first set of his first ATP final and was never able to recover. His body let him down and his opponent, Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, seized upon the moment with authority, winning 11 of the final 14 games to lock down the title at the Delray Beach Open. In spite of it all 20-year-old Korda comes away feeling immensely proud of his achievement and eager for what comes next in his tennis career.
“I’m always learning and it’s always a process,” he told reporters after his 6-3 6-3 loss to Hurkacz on Wednesday. “I’m only 20 years old and playing in my first ATP Final is something that I’ll always cherish, and it will always remind me next time I get an opportunity to play such a final.”
— Delray Beach Open (@DelrayBeachOpen) January 13, 2021
His body let him down
Korda, who had nursed a left leg issue since his second-round victory over Tommy Paul in Florida, was visibly dejected as he began to lose the grip on Wednesday’s final. It wasn’t so much that he couldn’t compete with Hurkacz, it was that his body wouldn’t let him.
“For sure my body was definitely a little tired, I played a couple of long matches and I finished pretty late yesterday, we played today at 3 o’clock,” Korda said. “Especially on the serve, landing was kind of super tough for me, kind of shot up into my groin area.”
Still Korda was quick to deflect attention to his opponent. He praised Hurkacz for a job well done.
“He played a really good match for sure, after 2-1 [in the second set] he was kind of in a rhythm and he was playing some really good tennis, all the credit’s to him and I’m still super happy with how this whole tournament went, it was a great week.”
Korda, at 6’5”, has often talked about the challenge of getting physically ready to face the ATP’s elite on the biggest stages. He’s held up extremely well, given that he now has only 12 ATP matches under his belt and has only participated in five main draw events (two Slams, one Masters 1000 and two 250-level events).
“Yeah I was trying everything to stay in there and was kind of getting just a little frustrated with my body, it just wasn’t the best time for something to happen,” he said of his breakdown in the final.
Korda says he needs time to build up his strength and endurance, and he sees his run to the final, one in which he played five matches in less than a week, including two three-setters, as a step in the right direction.
“I think everything is just still kind of a process of getting my body [in shape],” he said. “As you can see my body is not 100 percent there when I need it. So it’s always every single day kind of just baby steps, in a way, and kind of building myself closer to hopefully play some good tennis – and hopefully my body can keep up with the good tennis and I will keep getting these opportunities.”
Just outside the top 100
Korda has come a long way in a short time. Before he played the Western and Southern Open and US Open last year, he was ranked 225. On Monday he is projected to come in at 103 in the ATP rankings. To halve his ranking in less than six months is quite an accomplishment. And he’s setting his sights on even bigger things.
“For sure to break the Top 100 and be a consistent player at these bigger tournaments would be a super big thing for me, to kind of get used to this atmosphere and these players, it would be super cool but as I said everything is a process for me, I’m still 20 years old, so this year is still all about learning and working hard,” he said.
No lingering disappointment
To lose in a final is always a bitter pill to swallow, but Korda believes that what does not kill him will only make him stronger. Today in his press conference he shared a similar experience from the end of his 2019 season when he lost a heart-breaking challenger final to JJ Wolf and missed out on playing qualies at the Australian Open in 2020 as a result.
“I always handle things pretty well,” he said. “In 2019 I lost in the finals of the last tournament of the year, in a challenger with a couple of match points to JJ Wolf, and if I had won that match I would have gotten into the Australian Open qualies, so I mean it’s always a step in the right direction, 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 for me, I’m going to go back, I’m going to work hard and just trust my tennis and keep doing the things that I’m doing.”
It’s a family affair
One thing is crystal clear when it comes to Korda: he’ll benefit from the strength of his family. His father Petr, a former world No 2 and Grand Slam champion, and his mother Regina, also a former top professional, are fully committed to giving their child every chance in the world to succeed. Korda’s dad has helped facilitate his son’s relationship with Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, and that is already paying big dividends.
— ATP Tour (@atptour) January 13, 2021
Korda also has his sisters, Jessica and Nelly, both professional golfers on the LPGA Tour, to lend him support.
“I always went to my sisters golf tournaments and it was always me and my parents on the outside so it is cool to see my whole family sitting in a box,” he said. “I dreamed about playing Grand Slams and seeing my family up there supporting me ever since I was a little kid and kind of just envisioning these kinds of things has always been super special. To see that it’s kind of coming true now, all the hard work, and all the time that I put into doing what I love is finally paying off, and I hope that I can keep going on the same path that I am going on right now.”
Korda’s father Petr always seems to be finding an angle to help his son. This week Tennis Majors talked to Sebastian about his relationship with Zdeno Chara, a world-class NHL hockey player who has won the Norris Trophy (best defenseman) and the Stanley Cup. It’s another way that Petr can help his son, by helping him network to other athletes and inspirational figures.
“He’s a big inspiration for me,” Korda told Tennis Majors of Chara. “I love hockey and he is such an animal, and he’s so devoted to what he does so it’s really cool to have a friend like that and whenever I need to, I always talk with him. He’s probably one of the fittest players in the NHL – he’s a big inspiration for sure.”
What’s next for Korda?
The American has elected to pass on Australian Open qualifying in order to play more challenger events in Europe. He had originally planned to play four – one in Istanbul and three in France – but has decided to skip the first one in Istanbul due to his current injury.
He told reporters that he will travel to the Czech Republic after a few days at home to have a mini-camp before playing three indoor challenger events in France.
“I’m pretty sure there are three challengers in France that are indoors, so I’m going to go play those, and maybe try and play qualies at, I think it’s Marseille or Rotterdam or something like that, then hopefully come back to the states and play Acapulco and Miami, and then see from there where the next step is for me.”