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Jul/21

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Could Korda Be The One?

In the summer of 2000 Pete Sampras was asked:

Who among the younger generation – such as Hewitt, Haas, Federer, Ferrero and Vinciguerra – impresses you the most as a potential champion and why?

Sampras answered: “All those guys you mentioned have something about them that makes them capable of winning a Grand Slam. But I don’t know if anyone has the whole package to win Slams year after year. That’s very hard to do. Philippoussis has the biggest game of anyone who might win Wimbledon or US Open one year. But to do it year after year, it has to be an obsession, a passion. At times he’s had that but he doesn’t have it enough. Hewitt has the mental and physical games to do well at majors. But to do it year after year it takes a big game. To dominate you need a game like Philippoussis.”

At the time of these Sampras comments Federer was almost 19 years old and ranked 38 in the world. He was still raw and two years from reaching his first major QFs in 2001 (Roland Garros and Wimbledon). So even the expert eye and senses of Pete Sampras could not quite see the potential of Federer.

Federer was still a question mark in summer 2000 but his progression eventually galvanized and you all know the rest of the story.

The point being made is the next young, unformed Federer type breakout champion could right now be lurking in the shadows, unknown to even the most perceptive tennis minds.

It’s possible Sebastian Korda could be that future lion king on the verge of shocking the tennis universe. Korda, who will turn 21 on July 5, has already won an ATP singles title and he’s reached the fourth round of Roland Garros last October (lost to Nadal).

Right now he’s ranked 50 in the world. Korda has a 24-13 ATP singles record so far, has proven already he can win consistently in his first two years on the ATP World Tour. That compares favorably to the top ranked American at the moment, 23 year old Taylor Fritz who has a pro record of 112-111.

Korda is part of a large group of #NEXTGEN hopes – Ruud, Tsitsipas, Tiafoe, Medvedev, Rublev, Fritz, de Minaur, Felix, Shapovalov, Hurkacz, Sinner, Musetti – where one or two or even three will emerge as a super champion, as Federer did in the early 2000s. Federer then inspired Nadal and Djokovic. You know the rest.

Korda has been very impressive on all surfaces, in big match situations. He has the “big game” Sampras remarked on and it remains to be seen if he has the “obsession, passion” to win Grand Slams. Also to his great advantage, Sebi has the best coach in the world, his father the 1998 AO champion Petr, who once was no. 2 in the world and previously coached a doubles journeyman to the top ten in singles (Radek Stepanek).

Something about Korda makes me wonder if he could really be the one who eventually stands out from the #NEXTGEN class. I can see it happening. All the qualities are there, the fire in the eye, the poise, maturity, the weapons, the certainty in his step. Time will tell…

(Sebastian Korda acrylic painting by Karin Billings.)

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9 comments

  • Gaurang Khetan · July 5, 2021 at 3:48 pm

    Agree… Korda shows a lot of class in his matches. He has immense talent, esp given his little experience in the top level — but he shows mental toughness of a champion. He can keep his composure in tough situations.

    And one thing I like about him is he keeps things very simple and straightforward — at least the way I see it. He does not overthink anything, keeps things simple and aggressive even in important points — and comes out on top at the end.

    He lost in 5 sets to Khachanov today — but the match was very close and Korda should have won it. He had some physical issues (or a small injury) which caused him to not play his best in the last set or so.

    But he is learning — and he will win these kind of next matches next time…

    He almost got to a Wimbledon QF already!!!

  • Gaurang Khetan · July 5, 2021 at 3:50 pm

    But I see Korda reaching top 10 — and possibly top 5. But reaching #1 and winning slams is hard to predict. Its definitely possible and the kid has all the talent in the world — but somehow lot of things have to fall in place to reach the very top of the game.

    You see Zverev who has been playing very well for such a long time, and still not reached #1. Its just very difficult to do it — and hard to predict.

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 5, 2021 at 6:05 pm

    Gaurang, it’s easy to predict anything πŸ™‚ It’s easy to say anything too πŸ™‚ But I’m very confident in Korda, he has all the qualities and x factors. I’ve seen all the big players at their best and also as struggling early pros. I knew the first time I saw Rios he would be a top player. Roddick too as a junior, he worked his ass off as a young pro. Nadal was a no brainer when he was 17, nothing was going to stop him. Zverev will get there too, but it’s not his time just yet. Tsitsipas didn’t amaze me as a junior, but he did as a young pro at US Open qualies beating Berrettini then losing to Mahut. I saw Swiatek qualify of AO at 17, I knew then she had it. I like Fritz too. I’ve seen Korda play and train since he was 14. We’ll see, he’s just 20 and IMO he’s the most impressive young American since Roddick. I like Nakashima too and Paul has a shot too. Opelka has the weapons but not sure if he’s a tough enough competitor yet.

  • Gaurang · July 6, 2021 at 5:02 am

    Good to know you assess Korda highly compared to other top players.

    I am a fan of his, so looking forward!

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 6, 2021 at 8:59 am

    Gaurang, we are all excited to see Korda’s career play out, including the other American ATP players who all don’t want to get passed by Korda, so they will all be extra inspired and motivated to train and work harder to keep up with Korda.

  • Gaurang · July 6, 2021 at 7:29 pm

    Not sure about other players though. I have not seen Nakashima yet — but others like Tommy Paul, Opelka, Fritz, Tiafoe are good but are not top 10 material.

    Here’s my guess for their peak ranking:

    Korda: 4-8
    Fritz: 15-20
    Tiafoe: 17-22
    Opelka: 20-25
    Tommy Paul: 25-30
    Nakashima, Brooksby: Not seen yet

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 6, 2021 at 7:54 pm

    Ann Grossman believes Paul is the most talented athlete of all the young Americans but Paul seems to be content with being a solid top 15-30 range pro. He’s a fun loving guy with a great personality. But it takes an obsessed machine robot to get to the top. Fritz wants to be no. 1 and has said it and he has the competitive spirit and fighting heart and the weapons, he also likes to have fun away from tennis. We’ll see if he’s obsessed enough to be the best. Tiafoe shows us flashes of greatness sporadically but can he sustain it longer? Opelka is better than Isner as a player and athlete but his competitiveness is not there yet, he gets too negative and grumpy on court when things don’t go his way. Isner always digs in and fights. Nakashima is machine, works hard, wants it, I like him a lot. Brooksby is a machine too, solid player, progressing slowly but steadily. I don’t know enough about him and where his head is, how much he really wants to be great. I like Korda the best of all. Best American prospect since Roddick. But I project Korda to be better than Roddick.

  • Gaurang · July 7, 2021 at 4:42 pm

    Thanks for the observations! Helpful.

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 7, 2021 at 6:55 pm

    Anytime amigo!

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