Men's singles fourth round
A cool, calm and collected Sebastian Korda continued to make giant strides at Australian Open 2023 by securing his maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal on Sunday.
The American was pushed the distance 3-6 6-3 6-2 1-6 7-6[10-7] in downing No.10 seed Hubert Hurkacz on a sun-kissed Rod Laver Arena.
As additional bonus, Korda served up the perfect early birthday present for his father, 1998 Melbourne Park champion Petr.
Leading into the match, the only previous meeting between the pair came in 2021 at Delray Beach, USA, with Hurkacz winning 6-3 6-3. Since then, Korda has truly established himself as a major player.
Hurkacz had the Grand Slam experience, having enjoyed a semifinal showing at Wimbledon 2021. Fast-forward to Melbourne this January, and the 25-year-old required two five-set battles to reach the last 16.
Korda burst into contention when he dominated 2022 finalist Daniil Medvedev 7-6(7) 6-3 7-6(4) on Friday night.
There was a hint this kind of run could happen for the American. Prior to the Australian Open, Korda reached the Adelaide final, falling to Novak Djokovic in three sets despite holding match point.
Korda, mentored by four-time champion Andre Agassi, has clearly transferred that type of form to Melbourne.
Story of the match
No.10 seed Hurkacz's ability to crush his serve and find aces when in trouble enabled him to steal the opener, before he fended off danger at 2-1 in the second set. But that was a warning sign.
Korda's game clicked and a balletic leaping backhand volleyed smash was a break-providing gem. Set two in the bag.
Korda's shoulders were rolling between points, his ice-cool persona on show. The 29th seed dragged Hurkacz from corner to corner, line to line, to edge a 22-shot rally en route to a 3-0 lead.
The American's balance and positioning at net was particularly effective in picking off the necessary points, while booming kick serves helped. In shorter order, Korda was one set away.
Not quite. Hurkacz knuckled down and mirrored Korda's dominance from the third set in the fourth.
Korda's development into an elite athlete was perfectly portrayed in the deciding set. The 2018 junior champion dissolved a brace of break points at 5-5.
Into a cagey match tiebreak, the 22-year-old stuck to his guns after seeing his 7-3 advantage pegged back level. Korda held his nerve and held his arms aloft in sweet relief after a backhand winner sealed the result in three hours, 28 minutes.
"It's awesome. Was brutal, just had a big lead, then lost it, then just somehow managed to just pull through. It wasn't easy, but I'm very happy with the way that it ended," claimed Korda, who keeps the time of home on his watch to help connect with family.
"I think I'm really good at just kind of moving forward, learning from my mistakes, then using them in matches like this.
"I think I've had a tough match with Rafa (Nadal), serving for it a couple times. Match point with Djokovic. I think that really helped me, especially in the last match with Medvedev, closing out that tiebreaker. Then today as well.
"I think all those little moments that I've gone through, kind of learning from them, staying patient, staying positive, going through the process I think have really helped me going forward."
In just his second Australian Open main draw and ninth Grand Slam overall, Korda has broken new ground to become a quarterfinalist.
The American is the third men's stars and stripes quarterfinalist in Melbourne since Andy Roddick was in the final eight in 2010, joining Tennys Sandgren (2018, 2020) and Frances Tiafoe (2019).
What this means for Korda
This seems like a significant shift for the world No.31 in fulfilling his potential.
The 22-year-old has long been touted as a future major champion.
He's taken his own path and it's coming to fruition.
In the quarterfinals Korda will take on world No.20 Karen Khachanov with a favourable 2-1 record.
Khachanov won their only major meeting in a bruising five-setter at Wimbledon 2021.
What's next for Hurkacz?
Hurkacz must have been feeling the exertions from the earlier rounds and will want to be more efficient at the opening hurdles in future major play this season.
The Pole won the 2021 Miami Masters, so will welcome the American 'Sunshine Swing' in March.