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Men's Day 9 preview: Korda, Lehecka dare to dream

  • Dan Imhoff

Four men vying for their maiden Australian Open final will be whittled down to two when quarterfinals action begins on Tuesday.

MORE: Day 9 schedule of play

A three-time Melbourne Park semifinalist heads the billing, with a former top-10 challenger and two major quarterfinal debutants also on the cards.

Stefanos Tsitsipas [3] v Jiri Lehecka

Head to head: 1-0

There is no place like home, and Tsitsipas claims Rod Laver Arena as his own.

The 24-year-old has enjoyed huge success in Melbourne since his breakout run to a Grand Slam semifinal four years ago, due in no small part to raucous on-court support from the city's sizeable Greek community.

Three semifinals from the past four years have made the Australian Open his most consistent major.

"I grew up in a climate that is very similar here, from the place I come from in southwestern Attica," Tsitsipas said. "It always reminds me of home a little bit when I'm here … Melbourne is the second-biggest city after Athens with the biggest Greek population.

"I would consider it my home Slam. The French people have Roland Garros, the Brits have Wimbledon, the Americans have US Open. For me, it's the Australian Open."

With Australian legend Mark Philippoussis in his camp, the third seed reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal in a year, following a remarkable five-set triumph over rising Italian Jannik Sinner on Sunday night.

It set a second showdown with first-time major quarterfinalist Lehecka, whom Tsitsipas defeated in three sets to reach the Rotterdam final last February.

The 21-year-old Czech was already assured of a top-40 debut and has felt at home himself this fortnight.

MORE: AO 2023 men's singles draw

While a rank underdog on paper, Lehecka's impressive all-court game has already surprised three seeds – No.21 Borna Coric, No.11 Cameron Norrie and No.6 Felix Auger-Aliassime – and set crowds alight on the smaller outside arenas.

Partisan support was by no means guaranteed for the third seed on Rod Laver Arena.

"I will go for that revenge, for sure," the world No.71 said. 

"I know that he will remember how we played last year in Rotterdam. One set I was the better player on the court, then he overtook the match … He will know what my strengths are. He will feel that I can get him under the pressure."

Sebastian Korda [29] v Karen Khachanov [18]

Head to head: 1-2

Expectations have not been piled this high on a Korda at Melbourne Park since, well, Korda went into the boys' singles final five years ago.

That came 20 years after his dad, Petr, lifted the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup on Rod Laver Arena, and he duly delivered.

Fittingly, the 22-year-old's breakout Grand Slam run has unfolded on the 25th anniversary of the scissor-kicking Korda Snr's triumph.

Seeded 29th, the American was keeping expectations in check, despite cutting down two-time finalist Daniil Medvedev in straight sets and 10th seed Hubert Hurkacz in five for his major quarterfinal.

Korda showed his skill to beat Medvedev, and his steel to edge Hurkacz (Getty Images)

It was while his father coached Czech Radek Stepanek that Korda was convinced to make the switch from ice hockey to tennis as a 10-year-old.

As fate and loyalty would have it, Stepanek has transitioned to become Korda's coach.

"I switched over because I went to the US Open in 2009 with my dad and Radek," Korda said. "He made round of 16, I think it was. He played Novak on Arthur Ashe 10.30 at night, completely packed.

"I went back the next day and I said, 'This is what I want to do'. I fell in love with the energy of the crowd, the way the sport is played, how mental it is. Yeah, just the rest is history."

One of Korda's most painful early memories of Grand Slam competition came against his quarterfinal opponent, Khachanov, in the fourth round at Wimbledon two years ago.

After a heart-breaking 10-8 fifth set defeat to Khachanov, Korda has claimed both meetings since, in Cincinnati and Antwerp last year.

Eighteenth seed Khachanov backed up his defeat of 16th seed Frances Tiafoe with victory over Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka – a match in which he claimed the first 14 games – to complete his career set of Grand Slam quarterfinals.

The 26-year-old eyed back-to-back major semifinals and was surprised he was just the 10th active player to achieve the feat.

"Obviously, yeah, that gives me some kind of compliments, you know, on what I achieved so far, and I'm just happy to do it," he said. 

"Hopefully I can continue even further (onto) even bigger things."