There are two sounds floating through the air at United Tennis Academy’s James T. Driscoll Centre Court Stadium on the eve of the Sarasota Open.
There’s the popping of tennis balls against rackets and clay as Sebastian Korda fires practice shots over the net. And there’s the sound of laughter, which surrounds Petr Korda as he alternates between watching his son practice and schmoozing with the small crowd of players, coaches and other enthusiasts. Not more than a dozen feet away from the still-striking image of Petr: His son swings his racket just as Petr did 20 years ago when he was one of the best tennis players in the world
44Sebastian Korda’s International Tennis Federation ranking. He’s also regarded as the No. 2 recruit in the Class of 2018 by TennisRecruiting.net.
Sebastian Korda is only 16, but he is already showing why he has a chance to follow in his father’s footsteps as a Grand Slam champion. The Bradenton native is one of the top players in the 16-and-under age division and a staple in the top juniors events. Next week, he will make his debut on the ATP Challenger Tour when he plays in the main draw of the Sarasota Open on Monday at United Tennis.
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“I just want to have fun,” said Sebastian, who is more commonly called Sebi. “It’s my first Challenger, so just whatever happens, happens.”
It will be a fitting debut for Korda, who was a ballboy at the tournament when he was younger and it was played in Longboat Key. The United Tennis facility, Petr said, is close enough to the Kordas’ home that they could probably hit it with a golf ball using a driver from their front yard. Completing the golf tie-in, Sebastian and Petr drove a golf cart to the academy for a practice session Friday.
Before Sebastian started training at IMG Academy and when United Tennis was called the Racquet Club of El Conquistador, Sebastian called this venue his home court. Even so, it was never a guarantee Sebastian would take up and pursue tennis. Petr never pushed his children to play the same sport he did. Nelly and Jessica, Sebastian’s older sisters, are professional golfers. Sebastian, until he was about 11, identified himself first as a hockey player.
When Sebastian was younger, he split his time between Bradenton and the Czech Republic, the home country of both of his parents (Petr and Regina). He spent more of his time in Florida at Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex than on tennis courts, and he briefly played for the Tampa Bay Junior Lightning. That changed when he took a 2011 trip to the U.S. Open in New York. Soon after, he switched his focus to tennis, following in his parents footsteps.
Korda knows his bloodlines help. He is built basically identically to his father — all of his limbs are wire thin and create a lanky 6-foot-3 frame that lets him cover ground on defense and fire booming ground strokes on offense. He has watched enough videos from his father’s playing days to see what he can mimic.
“We like to take it early. We’re aggressive,” Sebastian said. “I model my game after his as much as I could. He’s always been my idol and he always be.”
But Petr doesn’t necessarily teach that. He knows tennis has changed in the nearly 20 years since he retired. When Korda won the Australian Open in 1998, players could still get by without living on the baseline. He sprang upsets against players such as Pete Sampras with a serve-and-volley game that would seem dated today. Petr, who is also Sebastian’s coach, trains his son with a modern spin.
I model my game after his as much as I could. He’s always been my idol and he always be.
Sebastian Korda, Sarasota Open entrant
Sebastian’s game still hinges upon getting to the net, but he hits ground strokes his father never did. He even uses the two-handed backhand that has risen in prominence in the years since his father retired.
“Obviously, the body type is a little bit similar, but we have a totally different game because the time is slightly different,” Petr said. “You cannot be a dinosaur. You have to be with the game. You have to be in the iPhone era.”
A little less than an hour into Korda’s practice session on the eve of Sarasota Open qualifing, Petr finally picks up the racket he has had sitting courtside through the afternoon and heads to one baseline. Sebastian goes to the other. Petr fires off some of those stretchy forehands that seem like they cover half the court, just like his son does.
You cannot be a dinosaur. You have to be with the game. You have to be in the iPhone era.
Petr Korda, former Australian Open champion
For about 10 minutes, it’s as though Petr and Sebastian are facing inverse images of each other — separated by about 30 years.
“The way he loves the game, I can find myself in it,” Petr said. “For me, it’s great. He loves what he is doing.”
Elizabeth Moore Sarasota Open
Who: 32 men’s singles, 16 men’s doubles teams.
When: April 15-16 (qualifying draw); April 17-23 (main draw). Day sessions begin at 10 a.m. Main draw night sessions begin at 5 p.m.
Where: United Tennis Club, 4511 Bay Club Drive.
Cost: $20 and up (individual tickets), $100 and up (ticket packages).
Parking: $5 per day (April 15-21); $10 per day (April 22-23); $30 weekly pass.