Tennis players rarely merit a mention on the Golf Channel, but Sebastian Korda – a 20-year-old with distinguished lineage – is an exception.
Korda is not only the son of former Australian Open tennis champion Petr Korda, but the brother of two professional golfers: Nelly and Jessica Korda. All three siblings are masters of both sports, but when Sebastian chose strings over irons as a young teenager, he set off on a road that led him to the fourth round of this year’s French Open.
In a rain-interrupted match on Court 7, Korda beat fellow qualifier Pedro Martinez by the tennis equivalent of 7&6. Standing 6ft 5in tall, and with his collar-length blond hair held back by an Alice band, he looked like an even younger version of Alexander Zverev. His long levers deliver a backhand drive of almost equal quality, as Martinez discovered in the course of a 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 defeat.
Hence the name-check on the Golf Channel. As Nelly walked out onto the first tee of the LPGA event in New Jersey on Friday, the presenter noted the early result from Paris and suggested that “this is America’s newest sporting family”.
What “newest” meant in this context is unclear, but Korda explained afterwards how his sisters came to choose one path and him another. “I think my oldest sister Jessica, she didn't really like sweating growing up. So tennis wasn't the ideal sport for her and she fell in love with golf. Of course, my other sister watching my sister Jessie play, she just wanted to be like her. She followed in her footsteps.
“They'd be both unbelievable tennis players. Whenever they get on court, they got some nice-looking strokes. No, they'd be some pretty good tennis players.
“As for myself and golf, I played a lot of golf during the time at home. I don't know, probably like a three or two handicap. I golfed a lot my whole life. My dad is a club champion where we live. So, yeah, we're all pretty good golfers.”
Sebastian drives the golf ball 275 yards either left- or right-handed – an ambidextrous facility that helps him with that double-handed backhand of his. He will need that shot in the next round when he faces the defending champion Rafael Nadal, a 6-1, 6-4, 6-0 winner over Stefano Travaglia of Italy.
Korda has known Nadal a long time. There is a cute picture of them together, dating back 11 years from the 2009 US Open – a tournament that Petr Korda attended while coaching fellow Czech Radek Stapanek.
While waiting for the Nadal result, Korda said “I'm praying that he wins. I mean, he's my biggest idol. He's one of the reasons I play tennis. Just watching him play, unbelievable competitor. Just from him I have the never-give-up mentality. Whenever I'm on court, I try to be like him.
“Growing up, I named my cat Rafa after him. That says a lot about how much I love the guy.”
Korda attributes his stamina and poise at this tournament to the work he did with his new fitness trainer, Marek Vseticek, during lockdown. Although they could not be together in person, they spoke every day, and his coltish frame has filled out noticeably.
After his previous victory, Korda had mimed a swimming stroke on the court, in reference to a pre-event bet he struck with Vseticek and the rest of his team. “We went to dinner in the city in Prague. We were having dinner on the water. I was just looking out.
“I was like, If I qualify and make third round, you guys got to swim across. My coach, my fitness trainer and Radek Stepanek, 100 per cent. We shook on it. Yeah, so it's going to be an interesting bet. I can't wait for it.”
One wonders what he will make his team do if somehow, by a freak of sporting nature, he beats Nadal.