12:19 AM GMT February 13, 2018
One might be surprised that one of the opening-night matches at the inaugural New York Open — held on Long Island — features a 17-year-old. But don’t be.
Wild card Sebastian Korda recently won the Australian Open boys’ singles event, the victory catapulting him to the top spot in the junior world rankings. And not only that, but the right-hander — who is competing in his first ATP World Tour match against compatriot and friend Frances Tiafoe on Monday evening — has a bloodline plenty familiar to Long Islanders.
Former World No. 2 Petr Korda, Sebastian’s father, defeated 94-time tour-level titlist Ivan Lendl in straight sets to triumph at Long Island’s ATP World Tour event 16 years ago.
“We didn’t really talk about it,” said Korda of his father, who coaches him. “But I know every tournament that he won so it’s pretty special coming here on Long Island, where he won in 1992, especially against a really good family friend like Ivan.”
For those who did not do the maths, that title came nearly eight years before Sebastian was born. But nobody needs to remind the Floridian about what his father has done. In fact, he is already following in Petr’s footsteps with his title at Melbourne Park — Petr captured his lone Grand Slam singles title in Australia 20 years ago.
But now it is Sebastian’s turn to shine under tennis’ spotlight. And it is only fitting that this tournament — the first ATP World Tour event in New York since 2004 — is being held at NYCB Live, the former home of the NHL’s New York Islanders. Sebastian was a competitive hockey player at a young age until visiting the US Open with his father, who was coaching Radek Stepanek, at the 2009 US Open. He has not skated since.
“If you would’ve asked me seven, eight years ago I would say, ‘Oh, maybe he would be there for the hockey draft’,” Petr said. “We are here for tennis.”
Petr never forced tennis on Sebastian — his two daughters are professional golfers on the LPGA Tour, with 24-year-old Jessica winning an Australian Open of her own six years ago. But he is excited for what is to come in his son’s career.
“I’m happy he’s carrying the family business,” said Korda, whose wife Regina was also a professional tennis player. “Now it will be up to him to carry the flag. My wife and myself, we’re happy to be part of it and helping him to be the best tennis player he can be.”
But Korda’s focus is solely set on one thing — his next match. And playing at the ATP World Tour level is a new experience for the American compared to the juniors.
“You’re playing for something. You’re playing for money, you’re playing for points, you’re playing to get up in the [ATP] Rankings to play these bigger tournaments,” Korda said. “Nobody’s going to give you one free point. Everyone’s going to be focused until the last point.”
So it certainly doesn’t hurt to have someone in his corner who has been through it all in the tennis world to lean on for advice. And while Sebastian says he has learned many lessons from his father, one sticks out.
“Every time I go on court just give my hardest,” Sebastian Korda said. “If you give it your hardest and you still lose you can walk away with a smile. It’s just a game, always enjoy it.”
And while his career is just beginning, Sebastian's goals are clear. If he can achieve them, it is safe to say countless fans throughout the world will enjoy watching.
"Definitely win an Australian Open, that’d be truly amazing, but to win two Grand Slams would be pretty special to one-up him a little bit," Korda said with a laugh, referencing his father. "That’s my goal, to get one better ranking than he had and definitely a couple more Grand Slams."