- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 4, 2021

A year ago, Sebastian Korda was ranked No. 220 in the world. After a breakout year, the 21-year-old tennis player is ranked in the top 50 for the first time in his career.

Korda, who won his second-round match against Vasek Pospisil at the Citi Open on Tuesday, is fresh off of a fourth-round run at Wimbledon. He said he noticed how well he was playing this year after the head-turning play in London.

“The process has been sped up super fast,” Korda said. “Kind of sometimes you don’t realize how well you’re doing.”

Korda‘s run at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club was highlighted by a first-round win over Alex de Minaur, the No. 15 player in the world, in five sets with two tie breaks. After three victories there and a win in Parma, Italy, Korda is No. 48 in the world, checking the box of his preseason goal of being in the top 50.

Now, his sights are set on climbing into the top 30 in the world.

“I’d love to finish now top 30 with how everything’s going right now,” Korda said. “Just to keep enjoying myself, keep learning.”

The Bradenton, Florida, native isn’t a stranger to high-level tennis. His father, Petr, was the No. 2 player in the world in 1998 and won the Australian Open that year.

Korda has been surrounded by professional tennis his entire life, tagging along to tournaments when Petr was coaching tennis star Radek Stepanek. While watching Stepanek, he was able to learn how professional players get to where they are.

“Just kind of what it takes to be a professional,” Korda said. “Just getting that professional mindset from him was probably the biggest thing that I picked up.”

As a boy, Korda would wait outside the locker room for Stepanek. When he was 8 years old, Rafael Nadal emerged from the locker room in Miami, said hello and tousled Korda‘s hair a little bit.

That was one of the first times that Korda and Nadal interacted, but Korda had admired the tennis star from the day he picked up a racket. 

“Ever since I started playing tennis, I kind of really looked up to him,” Korda said. “Now to be able to practice and play against him is a dream come true.”

Since their meeting 13 years ago, the two have played against each other once. Nadal got the better of Korda in the fourth round of the 2020 French Open, winning in straight sets. This past weekend, Nadal invited Korda to practice with him during one of his training sessions leading up to the Citi Open.  

Korda said he learned from Nadal during their training session, including the intensity that he practices with from start to finish. 

“He always has a purpose with whatever he’s doing,” Korda said of Nadal. “He’s always talking to his coach, trying to figure out things, what works on the court, what doesn’t work on the court.”

After their practice session, Nadal was impressed with what he saw from Korda on the court. 

The 20-time Grand Slam winner called Korda a “complete player” and said he has a good serve and baseline shots. 

“I think he has all the things that he needs to be a definitely top guy,” Nadal said Sunday. “Of course, then things are not easy and you need to keep improving. But I definitely believe, if you ask me, he is going to be a great one.”

The practice with Nadal may have helped Korda after he won his second-round singles match over Pospisil 7-6, 6-4. 

Korda isn’t just playing in the singles draw this week; he‘s also playing doubles. He played in both matches on Tuesday, and in doubles, he and Jannik Sinner knocked off Jackson Withrow and Benoit Paire in three sets. 

Sinner and Korda will play the winner of the Frances Tiafoe/Nick Kyrigos and Rohan Bopanna/Ivan Dodig match in the second round. 

In Thursday’s third-round singles match, Korda could meet his doubles partner, as he‘ll play the winner of Emil Ruusuvuori and Sinner. 

Korda has the opportunity to win an event his father won during his career this week at the Citi Open. Petr was victorious in the tournament in 1992 and Stepanek’s name is in the record book with a win in the District in 2011. 

“I think that would be really awesome, just having my dad coaching him, then coaching me,” Korda said. “If we were somehow to pull it off and win this tournament, it would be something super special, that’s for sure.”

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