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Stars of AO 2023: Sebastian Korda

  • Vivienne Christie

You could argue that Sebastian Korda was already destined for Australian Open success when he took to the court for a second main-draw campaign in 2023. 

Three immediate family members were already Australian Open champions – his father, Petr, triumphing in the AO 1998 men’s tournament and pro-golfer sisters Jessica and Nellie winning Australian Open LPGA titles in 2012 and 2019.

TICKETS: Support Sebastian Korda at Australian Open 2024

Sebastian himself had also shown his early potential, having defeated Tseng Chun-hsin on to lift the boys’ title in 2018. His made a memorable main-draw debut in 2022, claiming an upset win over No.12 seed Cameron Norrie in his opening match and progressing to the third round.

Few observers were truly surprised then, when Korda produced the best of his potent ball-striking to claim upset wins over Daniil Medvedev and Hubert Hurkacz on his way to a first Grand Slam quarterfinal in Melbourne last summer. The second-round upset of Medvedev, the AO 2022 runner-up, marked Korda’s first win over a top-10 opponent at a Grand Slam.

“(It was) probably one of the better matches I've played in my career,” said Korda, then aged 22. “Just stuck with the game plan, kept going after it. I think positive mentally throughout it. No matter what happened, kept pushing forward.”

Korda pushed forward again in the Australian Open’s final 16, where he was particularly impressive against Hurkacz. Combining his deft court craft with some big serves, the then-world No.31 completed victory over the No.10 seed in the fifth-set tiebreak.  

“(I’m) learning from my mistakes, what I've done in the past, then using them in matches like this,” said Korda, who drew on the experience of surrendering a match point to Novak Djokovic in the Adelaide International final the previous fortnight. 

“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.”

The true test of Korda’s mettle, however, would come in the months after a wrist injury forced a heartbreaking withdrawal from his Australian quarterfinal against Karen Khachanov. It kept him off tour for almost four months. 

While a return to tour on clay delivered only one match win – over fellow American Mackenzie McDonald in the first round of Roland Garros – Korda found form again on the grass courts of London. 

With a semifinal appearance at the prestigious Queen’s Club tournament, where his victims included No.4 seed Frances Tiafoe and No.5 Norrie, Korda climbed to a career-high world No.25.

There’s been some impressive progress since for Korda, including a finals appearance in Astana (losing in three tight sets to Adrian Mannarino) and a semifinal run at the Shanghai Masters, where he upset Medvedev again.

This time, Medvedev was a recent US Open finalist and had returned to No.3 in the rankings.

“It’s been a really long year for me. A lot of injuries, a lot of time off,” said Korda of another morale-boosting performance, in which he saved three set points in the first set. “To finally get a really good win like this against a top-five player is great for me.”

Peaking at No.23 by the end of the season, Korda returns to Melbourne Park with both heartening memories of his 2023 breakthrough and some powerful supporters.

Coached by former world No.4 Radek Stepanek (who, in a fascinating quirk was coached for a period by Petr Korda during his own ATP career) and his brother Martin, Korda also has a mentoring relationship with four-time Australian Open champion Andre Agassi.

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“He's one of the most special people in my life. We started talking during COVID in 2020,” Korda related of the former world No.1 American in Melbourne last summer. “He's been one of the biggest parts in my rise. Just overall just as a tennis player, as a human being. We spend a lot of time together.”

There’s also inspiration from father, Petr, whose image of course graces the Champions’ Walk at Rod Laver Arena. “Every single time I walk by, I always give him like a little fist pump,” Sebastian smiled of a ritual that’s happily emerged at the Australian Open. 

Motivation couldn’t be higher as Korda aims to build on those family connections to Melbourne. “It's a special place for us,” he added. “We've had some really great results. Hopefully I can do one better than the juniors and do it in the pros.”