MELBOURNE, Australia – Sebastian Korda’s father Petr, who won the Australian Open men’s singles title 20 years ago this week, didn’t especially want his son to follow in his footsteps.
But the kid wore him down.
In the end, it was Radek Stepanek’s fault.
And just seven years after the teenager gave up hockey for tennis, he’s the Australian Open junior boys’ singles champion after a 7-6 (6), 6-4 win over Tseng Chun Hsin of Taipei Saturday.
Sebastian Korda was an ice-hockey kid, not so unusual given his Czech background. He played until he was 10, his traveling team highly ranked in North America among the kids born in 2000.
But then, his father began coaching Stepanek, and kid was hooked. Dad almost had no choice but to help his son follow his dreams and, given his skills, became his coach as well.
Three Aussie Open titles in the family
The Korda family (Sebastian’s mother, Regina Rajchrtova, was a top-30 player on the WTA Tour herself) now has three Australian Open titles.
Yup, three. The third was Sebastian Korda’s big sister Jessica’s first career LPGA win at the Women’s Australian Open golf championship in Melbourne back in 2012, when she was just 18. Korda won a six-woman playoff.
And she celebrated with the Korda family’s trademark, a scissor kick.
Dad Petr did it when he won. Jessica did it when she won. And now, Sebastian has done after he also ruled Melbourne.
(We should mention that this 17-year-old already has a two handicap, even though he only plays for fun. In his favour, of course, is that he golfs lefty – like all of us quality golfers out there. That’s the same side on which he hits his superior two-handed backhand. So there’s a lesson in there somewhere).
— Jessica Korda (@Thejessicakorda) January 27, 2018
Half a kid, half a pro
Korda played 11 Futures and Challenger events in 2017, in addition to his efforts as a 16-year-old in the junior circuit. He plays doubles with his friend Nicolas Mejia of Colombia, who also trains out of the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
“I never really thought about ever coming here. Last year I played the Futures in Florida. This last year, me and my best friend, Nicolas Mejia, we decided, Let’s go to Australia and see what we can do,” Korda said.
Before playing the juniors here, Korda took part in Two Challengers Down Under. He posted a couple of nailbiting victories against a couple of seasoned veterans at the Playford Challenger the first week of the season.
|Q1||W||H2H||vs BARTON, Matthew (AUS)||6-1 5-7 7-6(4)|
|Q2||W||H2H||vs DANCEVIC, Frank (CAN)||6-7(4) 6-4 7-6(1)|
For now, Korda will continue to split time between the pro and junior ranks, and expects to play the rest of the junior Grand Slams this season.
But winning one has a way of changing the schedule. Denis Shapovalov said goodbye to the juniors when he won Wimbledon in 2016 as a 16-year-old. And Shapovalov’s friend Felix Auger-Aliassime did the same when he won the 2016 US Open, also as a 16-year-old.
Korda’s game is smooth, especially on the serve and backhand – both of which his opponent singled out for praise when he spoke during the trophy ceremony. He also is not averse to coming to the net.
Slam run on rerun
The constant for Korda is the YouTube video of his father’s emphatic win over Marcelo Rios of Chile in that 1998 men’s singles final. He admits he watches it at least once a month.
Probably can’t beat it as a motivational and training video.
Korda gave his father a shutout for his 50th birthday this week, during his post-match speech. His mother also turns 50, next week.
“My mom is exactly like my dad in everything. She’s the person who runs the family. Everything goes through her. Without her, we wouldn’t be anywhere.”
Dad, who is his son’s regular, day-to-day coach, said he didn’t want to distract from his efforts.
“I would love to be there, especially 20 years later, it’s very special for me,” Korda told the ATP Tour website. “But I decided to stay home to let him enjoy the Australian Open the way he needs to enjoy it. If I would be there, I believe I would be a distraction because that trip would not be about him, it would all be about dad’s 20th.”
There were other issues Dad had back in the day, and those might have come up as well. But as it was, young Korda got plenty of attention in the media anyway, because of the family connection and also because of his success.
And in the end, he followed the family tradition.