A Whole New World Korda

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Photo by Getty Images

Bill Simons

He’s young and lanky, has fabulous athletic genes and a giddy grin that won’t go away. Time and again Sebastian Korda says, “I’m over the moon.” The charismatic Floridian can’t stop smiling. After all, he can’t stop winning. Never before had the 20-year-old, No. 213, won even one tour-level match. But today the qualifier won his sixth straight match. The kid with the carefree blond hair is having the time of his life – and so are we. Here are some Korda coordinates:

  • How about this for a ridiculously optimistic prediction? In the second round, Korda tidily dismissed John Isner in just four sets. But it took Rafa five sets to down the big American in 2011. Therefore, logic tells us that when young Korda faces Nadal in the fourth round it will merely be a walk in the Bois de Boulogne. Then again, maybe not. The king of clay has won 12 titles here, has lost only two matches in 15 years and is yet to drop a set this year. Still, Korda’s thrilled. He told Tennis Channel, “Rafa is my idol. Everything he does is just perfect. Ever since I was a kid I was over the moon watching him play.” Later the star-is-born kid gushed, “I’ll be the happiest person on planet Earth if I do get to play him.” 
  • Earlier this year, an American thoroughbred named Nadal made headlines after he won one big race after another. Now Korda has revealed that he named his cat Rafa. “That shows how much I love him,” he explained.
  • Korda is the first male player born in the 2000s to make the second week of Roland Garros, the youngest American to reach the third round since 18-year-old Andy Roddick in 2001 and the youngest American man to reach the fourth round since Michael Chang in 1991. He’s also the first American player to reach a Roland Garros fourth round in his first attempt since Michael Russell in 2001 and is the lowest ranked American player to reach the fourth round since Todd Martin in 1991.
  • Who in their wildest dreams would have imagined the blond kid from Bradenton would be the last American man standing? Today, Taylor Fritz went down in three exciting sets to Lorenzo Sonego. 
  • Long ago, winners of the Dinah Shore golf tournament in the Coachella Valley would jump into a nearby pond. And Jim Courier and Angie Kerber drew attention when, after winning the Australian Open, they dipped into the Yarra River. Earlier this year, Korda was in Prague, by the city’s famous Charles Bridge, which dates to 1357. He bet his team that if he got through qualifying and past the third round in Paris they would have to swim across the Vltava River, which runs beneath the bridge. That’s why, after his victory over Spaniard Pedro Martinez Portero, in the third round, we saw him look to his team and do his best imitation of a breaststroke. BTW, his father Petr’s scissor-kick leap has been ranked as the fourth best celebration in tennis history. 
  • Seb continues a great tradition of Czechs and their families coming to America. Think Martina Navratilova and Ivan Lendl.
  • Speaking of Lendl, Ivan’s daughter was a considerable golfer and Seb’s two sisters are pro golfers who both won the Australian Open women’s golf tourney. Tennis’ crossover connection with golf has a long history, from Ellsworth Vines to Althea Gibson to that right-handed Spanish golfer Nadal and Mardy Fish, who won the American Century Championship. Reigning French Open champ Ash Barty just won a country club golf championship in Brisbane. Tiger Woods once was a Federer man, but is now in Rafa’s camp. Legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus adores tennis, does charity work with the Bryan Brothers, is often seen at Wimbledon and has grass courts in his back yard. Tennis icon Jack Kramer was a golf club entrepreneur. 
  • Seb’s sisters see their brother as a goofball, but also the most athletic member of their extremely gifted family. Seb’s father Petr won the Australian Open in 1998 and his mother Regina Kordova was a pro who reached No. 26.

TENNIS WITH AN ITALIAN ACCENT: Jim Courier said, “We’re going to be talking about Italian tennis for the next 10 or 15 years.” Four Italians are left: Matteo Berrettini, Jannink Sinner, Lorenzo Sonego and qualifier Martina Trevisan.

FRITZ TAYLOR AND THE BATTLE OF 1917: Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe are known for the most celebrated tiebreak in tennis history – the battle of 1816 when McEnroe beat his Swedish nemesis 18-16 in the fourth set of the 1980 Wimbledon final, before he eventually fell.

Today for San Diegan Taylor Fritz and Lorenzo Sonego it was the battle of 1917. The Italian beat the No. 27 seed Taylor 19-17 in a spectacularly entertaining 30-minute tiebreak that was ten minutes longer than the Mac-Bjorn’s tiebreak.Today we relished a classic struggle of a big-hitting, somewhat clay-averse American versus a clay-savvy Euro dirtmeister. As usual, the Euro prevailed. But Sonego had to fend off nine third-set points, and finally, thanks to an adept drop shot on his seventh match point, he prevailed 7-6, 6-3, 7-6(17). 

Despite the loss, Fritz drew kudos for again giving us a gutsy run on Euro clay. Fritz said he couldn’t have played the match much better, but was second-guessing himself for not stopping play deep into the third set tiebreak when one of his shots appeared to sail long but was not called out. “It sucks the way I lost…I should have stopped.” Taylor then confided that he was going to be up all night thinking about it. Be here’s our very unsolicited advice: Forget about it, Fritz. You gave a mighty effort on your off-surface, and your big day is coming. 

WHEN SIMONA WANTS REVENGE IT’S CRUSH CITY: Serena Williams’ brand is ferocity. So it’s not surprising that it’s said, “When Serena wants revenge, it’s crush city.” The slim 5’ 6” Romanian Simona Halep is not a large person. But, don’t be fooled. The former No. 1 is one intense competitor who wanted to get a bitter taste out of her mouth. Some 16 months ago at the French Open, an upstart American teen, 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova, unloaded a torrent of deep, flat shots and ran the proud former French Champ all over Court Philippe Chatrier. Her repeated winners barely gave the Romanian an opportunity to breathe, and her stunning 6-2, 6-4 upset over Halep sent shock waves through tennis.

Clearly, the Romanian was not pleased. She conceded that her tactics had been off. Today, on the birthday of her coach Darren Cahill, it was time to make amends. In her favorite city, Halep got one of her favorite things: payback. Simona overcame five early break points, returned brilliantly, played with aggression, kept Anisimova off balance and prevailed 6-1, 6-0 in 54 masterly minutes.

LOATHING AND LOVING ANDY MURRAY: After three-time Slam champ Andy Murray suffered a wretched opening round loss to Stan Wawrinka, Eurosport’s Mats Wilander asked, “Is it Murray’s right to be out there doing that? Why? I did it [took late-career wildcards at the expense of young contenders] and I shouldn’t have. It was the biggest mistake in my career.”

But Jim Courier contended, “Andy has every right to take wildcards…It is up to Andy how long he wants to play. This is all about him having the power to decide whether he will end his career on his terms, rather than his hip deciding.”

Murray’s former training partner Daniel Vallverdu said Wilander’s comments were “pathetic,” and the Scot’s uncle, Keith Erskine, who’s a US golf pro, tweeted, “It’s a certain breed of people who probably fear for their jobs (bad ex‑pro commentators, poor journalists and ex-coaches) who seem to know more about the welfare and drive of past champions and are responsible for most of the controversial and stupid comments aimed at them.” Wilander was apologetic.

GOOD TRY: Maria Sharapova said she played clay court tennis “like a cow on ice.” A few years ago Venus claimed that she was “an old cat who has a lot of tricks up its sleeve.” And earlier this year, a horse named Nadal was winning big races. Wednesday, a reporter noted that Stan Wawrinka has the nickname Stanimal, and was hoping to get some clever copy from the Swiss. He asked Stan, “What kind of animal do you play like?” We’re not saying that Stan ducking the question was a lot of bull, but he respectfully declined to answer.

Also reporting: Douglas Hochmuth

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