Sebastian Korda earned one of the biggest wins of his young career on Friday at the Western & Southern Open, rallying past former World No. 6 Gilles Simon in three sets to qualify for his first ATP Masters 1000 main draw.
The victory earned the #NextGenATP American three special deliveries wrapped in one: Boston Bruins t-shirts he had delivered to his house in Florida and carrying them, one of his coaches, former World No. 2 Petr Korda. Sebastian is Petr’s son.
The 1998 Australian Open champion would be plenty happy if nobody else notices his arrival. He is simply thrilled to be there with Sebastian, who will compete in just his second ATP Tour main draw.
“I like to be in his shadow. It’s fantastic. I love that. I’m enjoying being in the shadow of my kid,” Petr told ATPTour.com. “He’s the engine and I’m just the wheels. I’m a very proud dad and it should stay like that. He’s the one who should be giving the interviews, not me. The parents don’t normally give interviews.”
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Korda tested negative for COVID-19 in Bradenton and flew to New York on Saturday.
“They did the swab test and they put that thing up through my nose and it felt like they were cleaning my brain,” said Korda, who knew he’d need to take another test at the tournament hotel upon his arrival, quarantining until he gets his results. “There’s still the possibility he’s going to ask me to stay in the hotel even when he’s going to play singles. I don’t mind. I’ll do whatever he asks me.”
The 20-time tour-level titlist (10 singles, 10 doubles trophies) is his son’s coach. However, Korda has full trust in another one of Sebastian’s coaches, Dean Goldfine, and he is more concerned with his role as dad.
“We talk every day. We don’t necessarily need to talk before the match. I know he likes to have his own space,” Korda said, adding that he passes tactics to his son through Goldfine. “With Sebi we just talked this week more about other stuff in life, not about tennis. I’m not just his coach, I’m his dad.”
Korda, Wolf Qualify For Western & Southern Open
The younger Korda received attention two and a half years ago when he won the Australian Open boys’ singles title. After his victory, he paid homage to his father by replicating Petr’s famous scissor kick celebration. Less than a month later, he competed in the 2018 New York Open as a wild card, losing against Frances Tiafoe in three sets. After Korda returned to Florida, he got sick for five days.
“In the first week he grew close to an inch. [The growing] upset [his body] and that year he grew another two inches. It’s a lot. The growing process is very important. We’re just making sure his growth plates are closed,” Petr said. “We don’t put too much pressure on his body because tennis is a marathon. He just turned 20 and hopefully he has another 10, 15 years ahead of him to play tennis.”
Korda has steadily climbed the FedEx ATP Rankings. When he played the New York Open, he was outside the Top 800. He is currently World No. 224, one spot off his career-high.
“He is learning on the court, off the court. It’s phenomenal for him,” Petr said. “He is learning about the game left and right. He still has one or two more years when he’s going to need to learn quite a lot.”
Sebastian is not the only Korda trying to make waves as a professional athlete. His older sisters, Jessica and Nelly, are professional golfers. Although they rarely get to spend time together because of travelling to tournaments, they are a tight-knit family. They use the hashtag #KeepingupwiththeKordashians on Instagram.
“Our family has a very close connection and close ties. Their time is very precious when they’re together, so we let them be kids. [Even though they’re professional athletes], they still will be our kids,” Petr said. “They have daily conversations between them. If one of them isn’t doing well, they try to support each other. It’s an effort from all three corners.”
Sebastian plays fellow qualifier and #NextGenATP Finn Emil Ruusuvuori in the first round. According to Petr, “The guy whipped Sebi’s butt” at the same venue three years ago in the US Open boys’ singles event. No matter what happens when they meet again Sunday, Petr is just happy his son has another chance to learn, especially on a stage like the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in a Masters 1000 event.
More than anything else, Petr is simply proud to sit in the background, with all eyes on his son.
“I’m very happy for him,” Korda said. “He worked really hard for this moment.”