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Like father, like son: Sebi’s conserving it within the household

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Raz Mirza

Comment & Analysis @RazMirza

Sebastian Korda idolises his next opponent Rafael Nadal so much so that he even named his cat after the clay-court master

Last Updated: 02/10/20 9:07pm

Sebastian Korda is hoping to follow in his father Petr's footsteps by winning a Grand Slam

Sebastian Korda is hoping to follow in his father Petr’s footsteps by winning a Grand Slam

Sebastian Korda is keeping it in the family when it comes to tennis as he aims to follow in his father Petr’s footsteps by winning a Grand Slam title.

Sebi is the first qualifier to reach the French Open men’s fourth round since Alejandro Falla in 2011 and the lowest-ranked player, at 213, to reach the last 16 since 2002.

He must now prepare for the match of his life against the ‘King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros on Sunday. A match which will make him the “happiest person on Planet Earth” as he gets his wish against the 12-time champion in Paris.

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Korda’s family is sporting in every sense of the word with his father Petr already a Grand Slam champion after winning the 1998 Australian Open. He was also a runner-up at the 1992 French Open.

Mother Regina is a former professional tennis player from Czechoslovakia who played at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul and reached a carer-high world No 26, while his two sisters Jessica and Nelly are both professional golfers on the LPGA Tour.

Sebi, who has a golf handicap of +2, was heading for a career in hockey before changing his mind at the age of 11 to take up tennis. He credits his mother for being his biggest influence and then recalled the moment he wanted to become a pro with a trip to Flushing Meadows.

“I went to the US Open with my dad and Radek Stepanek in 2009. He (Stepanek) made round of 16 I think. He played (Novak) Djokovic on Ashe 10.30 at night, totally packed. I thought it was the coolest thing. Went home, came back the next year and said, ‘this is exactly what I want to do’. The rest is history,” he said.

Korda paid tribute to the scissor kick popularised by his father, Petr after winning the junior boys' Australian Open title in 2018

Korda paid tribute to the scissor kick popularised by his father, Petr after winning the junior boys’ Australian Open title in 2018

Korda won the junior boys’ Australian Open title in 2018 and now, at the age of 20, he has become the youngest American to reach the French Open fourth round since 19-year-old Michael Chang made it to the quarter-finals in 1991. He is also the first American to reach the last 16 on his debut since Michael Russell in 2001.

He had not won a tour-level match before this week but now Korda will go up against the unstoppable force in Nadal for a place in the quarter-finals. Sebi is still pinching himself at the thought of playing his “biggest idol”.

“He’s one of the reasons I play tennis. Just watching him play, unbelievable competitor. Just from him I have the
never-give-up mentality. Whenever I’m on court, I try to be like him,” he said.

“Growing up, I named my cat Rafa after him. That says a lot about how much I love the guy.”

Petr Korda won the 1998 Australian Open

Petr Korda won the 1998 Australian Open

When informed of the other Rafa, Nadal said with a smile: “That means that I have been on the TV for such a long time, that’s the main thing. Another negative thing that means is that I am 34.

“But I’m happy to hear that. I know he’s playing great. He’s a very young kid with a lot of power. I think he has an amazing future – hopefully not yet.”

Jessica (left) and Nelly Korda are the first sisters to have played together at the Solheim Cup

Jessica (left) and Nelly Korda are the first sisters to have played together at the Solheim Cup

Back home, the Korda sisters have been competing in a tournament in New Jersey. But that has not stopped them from waking up as early as 5am to watch their brother play in Paris.

When asked about his potential showdown with Nadal earlier in the week, the pair could not hide their excitement for him.

“Honestly I think he would be so excited on court,” Nelly told the official ATP Tour website.

“He’d have the biggest smile on his face,” Jessica said. “For someone who doesn’t show a whole lot of emotion, I guarantee he’d have a smile on his face.”

Nelly added: “Or just before he would just be freaking out and be like, ‘Oh my God, this is so cool!'”

Jessica said: “As it would start he would be very intense and then after be like, ‘That was the coolest thing ever!’.”

Jim Courier (right) beat Petr Korda to win the French Open in 1992

Jim Courier (right) beat Petr Korda to win the French Open in 1992

Jim Courier, who beat dad Petr to win the 1992 French Open final, has been working as a TV analyst for ITV during the tournament. He praised Seb saying he is someone who has “big, big potential” which young Korda was pleased to hear.

“It’s awesome always to hear how big of a potential I have, especially from an unbelievable player like he was,” he said.

“It’s really encouraging. What I’ve been saying to myself and everybody is just patience, keep building my body brick by brick. Just keep going the way I’m doing it right now.”

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Steven Gregory