If Sebastian Korda wasn’t already nervous enough playing at the Australian Open, one of his first impressions of Rod Laver Arena was seeing the giant sign in the Walk of Champions bearing the name of his father, Petr Korda, and the year he won the title in 1998.
No pressure or anything.
On Sunday, the younger Korda got his own debut Australian Open off to a promising start, winning his opening matches in both the boys’ singles and doubles events. He defeated Clement Tabur of France 7-5, 6-3 in singles, then teamed up with Nicolas Mejia of Colombia for a straight sets win in doubles.
Petr Korda didn’t make the trip from the family’s home in Florida to watch his 17-year-old son compete in Melbourne, but he’s very much here in spirit, particularly on the 20-year anniversary of his victory over Marcelo Rios, his only Grand Slam title.
“It’s definitely fun just walking around and seeing the poster when he won it,” Sebastian said. “It’s awesome, definitely.”
Sebastian grew up in a sports-obsessed family in Florida, where his Czech parents settled after getting married. Korda’s mother, Regina Rajchrtova, was herself a tennis player, ranked as high as No. 26 in the world.
And his sisters are now professional golfers who, like Sebastian, compete for the United States _ 24-year-old Jessica, who won her own Australian Open title on the LPGA Tour in 2012, and 19-year-old Nelly, currently No. 70 in the women’s golf rankings.
Sebastian gravitated toward hockey until he went to the 2009 U.S. Open to watch Czech player Radek Stepanek, whom his father was coaching, play a match against Novak Djokovic. After that, he was hooked.
His parents had never pushed him into tennis before that, but when he decided to take it up seriously, his father became his coach, too.
Sebastian’s resemblance to his father is uncanny _ he has the same lean build, spindly limbs and blond hair, though he doesn’t style it in Petr’s trademark spiky look from the 1990s. Sebastian stands 6-foot-3 (1.93 meters), just a bit taller than his father.
There are similarities in their styles of play, as well, though Sebastian plays right-handed and doesn’t have his father’s graceful one-handed backhand. His is a more modern two-hander.
“My dad definitely took the ball very early, I kind of play the same way,” he said. “I’m an aggressive player. I try to use my serve and to play fast points.”
Petr, who turns 50 on Tuesday, serves as Sebastian’s main coach, though his ability to travel with his son is limited by his commitments to his daughters’ golf careers. Sebastian is accompanied in Melbourne by his traveling coach, Dean Goldfine, who formerly coached Andy Roddick and Todd Martin.
“He’s got an all-around game,” Goldfine said before Sebastian’s doubles match on Sunday. “He’s got a big serve, great serve. He hits the ball really well off the ground for a guy his size and moves extremely well. Great hands and just an overall good understanding of the game.
“He’s just really a complete player for someone his age.”
Sebastian grew up hearing stories about his father’s career highlights, particularly his 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 rout of Rios in the 1998 Australian Open final, one of the most lopsided finals in tournament history. “Of course, I’ve watched plenty of videos,” he said with a smile.
But he doesn’t view his father’s legacy as a burden. If anything, it’s a source of inspiration _ and a way to set goals for himself.
“Definitely would like to have one more Grand Slam than my dad and one more ranking better than him,” he said.
Since his father peaked at No. 2, that means Sebastian would have to become No. 1 to better him.
As for who would win in a tennis match now, Sebastian can’t really say. “We don’t play anymore. The last time we played when I was like 12 years old, he gave me a bagel, 6-0. So I don’t want to play with him anytime soon,” he said.
Does he think he can beat him now, though?
“I think so,” he said, allowing himself another grin. “But I don’t want to.”
If he wins the Australian Open junior title, that just might suffice. It’s a step toward getting his own sign in the Wall of Champions at Rod Laver Arena someday.