Petr Korda on Saturday evening set the record on an arcade game in the middle of the Western & Southern Open players’ lounge. But that is the only reason the former World No. 2 is getting attention this week, and that is just the way he likes it.
Instead, Sebastian Korda is now the star Korda in the tennis world rather than his father and mother, former World No. 26 Regina Rajchrtova. The 21-year-old played shuffleboard on Sunday morning before beginning his pre-event media tour. Around him were players enjoying a ping pong table, a billiards table, and several arcade machines.
With few exceptions, Korda was the biggest player in the room at 6’5”. It is a big change, as a decade ago the American was the smallest on the scene. When he was a kid, “Seb” went to tournaments with his father, who coached Czech star Radek Stepanek. Now, Petr coaches Seb, who is one of the biggest attractions at this ATP Masters 1000 event.
The tournament had him sign posters and tennis balls to be given away before the #NextGenATP player was whisked away for interviews. This is Korda’s first main-draw appearance in Cincinnati, as last year the tournament was held in New York due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But especially in the United States, he is proving to be a star.
Since qualifying for his first Masters 1000 event last year as the World No. 225, Korda has quickly ascended into the Top 50 of the FedEx ATP Rankings. In Parma, he lifted his first ATP Tour trophy.
A reporter from the tournament explained to Korda that although she had spoken to him before and knew his life story, she had to ask general questions for a video piece.
“I’m used to it,” Korda said, cracking a smile.
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Korda speaks to the media ahead of the Western & Southern Open.
The 21-year-old is disarming in interviews, quick to laugh and enjoy the experience, no matter what questions come his way. Korda did three video interviews about 50 metres from the practice courts, where his competitors were preparing for the tournament. But the World No. 45 was completely relaxed. That follows advice he has gotten from one of his mentors, former World No. 1 Andre Agassi.
“He always tells me whenever I play like a big match or something to always enjoy it, and whenever I’m playing a tournament for the first time, to really enjoy it,” Korda said.
The Floridian is very aware of his surroundings. When he sat down for his final video interview, he noticed the reporter’s name, “Seb”, on his credential.
“Seb!” Korda exclaimed. “I’ve got to get that on my credential.”
It was the type of attention to detail Korda shows on court, too.
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Petr Korda watches his son practise on Sunday in Cincinnati.
Whereas in the past Korda received many questions about his father, Seb is now often asked about his sisters, golf stars Jessica Korda and Nelly Korda. Nelly recently reached World No. 1 on the LPGA Tour and won the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
Seb, who is in a group chat with his siblings, has not seen Nelly since her big victory, but will get to spend time with her after this week’s tournament in Cincinnati.
As his tour went on, “thank you” became the most-used phrase of the morning. Korda thanked the reporters he spoke with as well as the volunteers who opened the gate and door for him as he walked back from his interviews.
The American walked through the players’ lounge and up three flights of stairs to the room in which he did a Zoom press conference. In the hallway leading to that room, former World No. 1 Andy Murray passed by. The Scot gave his young colleague a fist bump and quipped that he saw Petr playing the Pac-Man game the night before. Seb proudly replied that his dad held the record.
After nearly an hour of media, Korda returned to the lounge, still bustling with activity as players enjoyed the games. Later in the day, he practised with Murray. Both of his coaches — his father and Dean Goldfine — were on court.
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Sebastian Korda trains with Andy Murray on Sunday in Cincinnati.
Now, Korda is ready for the tournament, in which he will play Serbian Laslo Djere in the first round. If the American wins, he will play second seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, with whom he shares an agent.
“It’s a tricky draw,” Korda said. “But I’m always up for it and it’s exciting.”
Korda has excited plenty of fans with his rapid rise. He has climbed so quickly that one reporter earlier in the day mentioned to Seb that he is “being built as the next big thing”. How does that sit with him?
“It makes me want to work harder,” Korda said.
The 21-year-old is no longer the kid following his dad around. Now it is his time to shine.