Before the Adelaide International 1 final, multiple photos of a young Sebastian Korda with Novak Djokovic went viral. Ahead of the match, former World No. 1 Djokovic had high praise for the 22-year-old American.
“[He is] one of the players that has kind of the cleanest striking technique that you can see on the Tour. I mean, he’s so talented. Everything seems very flawless with him. Just effortless, not flawless,” Djokovic said. “The way he plays, the way he moves on the court, just beautiful-looking tennis. Going to try to make it ugly tomorrow.”
Djokovic added that it is not a matter of if, but when Korda will crack the Top 10 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. The World No. 31 took notice of the Serbian’s kind words.
“I saw that he wanted to make my game ugly,” Korda told ATPTour.com, cracking a laugh. “It’s funny, it’s awesome to hear those great words from him and I’ve gotten a lot of great words from Nadal and him. It’s really kind of inspiring to just keep pushing forward knowing I’m doing the right things and just keep believing in myself and [knowing that] I’m on the right path.”
Korda came close to stunning Djokovic in the championship match. The Floridian held championship point in the second set, but the 92-time tour-level titlist rallied for a 6-7(8), 7-6(3), 6-4 triumph after three hours and nine minutes. It was not the first close call for Korda, who pushed Rafael Nadal to a final-set tie-break at last year’s BNP Paribas Open.
“Obviously I’ve had my chances against Nadal and then Djokovic, but I’m still young and those moments will only help me going forward as long as I learn from them,” Korda said. “I think overall there are still a lot of positives to take away from the match. It was very close, but still very far.”
One person missing from Adelaide was Korda’s new head coach, Radek Stepanek. The Czech star, who cracked the world’s Top 10 in singles and doubles, spent time in Florida during the offseason and will meet Korda in Melbourne for the Australian Open.
“It’s definitely different. My dad coached him for 13 years and now Radek is coaching me. It’ll probably end up that I’ll coach his daughters if they play tennis and then so on and so on,” Korda said. “But it’s really cool. I think we match perfectly well. He’s the main coach on my team and I also have Martin Stepanek, so a lot of great new additions to my team. I think it’s all been very positive so far.”
The pictures of Djokovic and Korda that went viral came from a time when Korda would follow Stepanek on the Tour while Petr Korda, Sebi’s father, coached him. Stepanek has long been like family to the Kordas.
“He was my big brother growing up. I only have two sisters, I never had a brother, but he was that guy for me. We’d go on family vacations together to the mountains to go ski, he’d take me to tournaments. He would take me under his wing, take me into the locker rooms, player dining and just get used to the tennis player lifestyle,” Korda said. “I think a lot of the success today is because of those moments. I’m very grateful to have been surrounded by him and also my dad for all those years growing up.”
Stepanek did not pack the powerful punch Korda did, but he made up for it with his frequent trips to the net and court sense. What is he adding to the American’s game?
“I think just to see the game in a different way. He had to be really smart on the court with the way he played,” Korda said. “He’d come to the net and be aggressive, which is kind of what we’re trying to do with my game. I think so far we’ve put in a lot of great work. It’s been really showing.”
That was especially the case against Djokovic. The Serbian is one of the best defenders in the history of the sport, but Korda often found ways to blast through his walls and take control of points.
“I think that’s the way you want to have that feeling on the court, that you’re in control. I think a lot of the matches I play with the gamestyle that I have, I’ll be dictating most of the matches. So a lot of the matches will be on my racquet, and kind of just depend [on] what I do with it. I think it’s really big for me,” Korda said. “Definitely you want to be in the position where you’re the one dictating and that’s the way my game is built and how it’s going to be built going forward.”
Korda is happy with his big week in Adelaide, but is focussed on continuing to improve. He sees his performance at the Australian ATP 250 as a sign he is on the right track, and he intends to stay on it.
“Definitely one day at a time,” Korda said. “But obviously I’d love to finish the year Top 20, Top 15. Those are what our eyes are set on and I think we’ll put a really big push into it and hopefully get it done.”