With family ties, Korda of US heads to Wimbledon’s 4th round

National Sports

Belarus’s Aryna Sabalenka celebrates winning a point against Colombia’s Maria Camila Osorio Serrano during the women’s singles third round match on day five of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, Friday July 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — When Sebastian Korda struck his last competitive shot as a 20-year-old — an overhead winner that closed out a third-round victory over Wimbledon’s No. 22 seed on Friday — the American raised both arms, then doubled over and rested his hands on his knees.

Up in a Centre Court guest box, the body language of his father, 1998 Australian Open champion Petr, was strikingly similar. Arms in the air, then leaning forward, reaching for the railing in front of his seat.

The younger Korda’s family bloodlines are serving him rather well at the moment. He is the son of two former professional tennis players — he credits his mother, Regina Rajchrtova, with teaching him to be calm on court — and the brother of two current stars in women’s golf — one of whom, Nelly, is ranked No. 1 and just won her first major — and is looking as if he very well could be the men’s tennis star his country has been awaiting for quite some time.

With an aggressive style that’s built for grass courts, Korda got past Britain’s Dan Evans 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to become the youngest U.S. man to reach the round of 16 at the All England Club since Andy Roddick got to the semifinals in 2003.

“Just felt incredibly comfortable,” Korda said. “And, yeah, it was perfect today.”

His father’s take? Essentially: Not so fast.

“It’s not over,” Dad said. “Let’s not celebrate until this is done.”

Wearing a black baseball hat and occasionally draping a white towel over his shoulders on the warmest day of the tournament so far, with the temperature rising toward the mid-70s Fahrenheit (20s Celsius), Petr was in a state of perpetual motion Friday. Any parent whose kids play sports at any level could relate, really, as he squirmed in his spot in the stands.

“It was nerve-wracking. I tell you, honestly, it’s easier to be on the golf course, because I can walk always,” he said, referring to watching his two daughters compete. “But with Sebi, I had to be sitting still, you know? That’s not easy.”

One, tiny measure of how quickly his son is developing: He is only the eighth man since 2001 to reach the fourth round at both the All England Club and Roland Garros before turning 21.

Of the other seven, four went on to be ranked No. 1 and win multiple Grand Slam titles: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Lleyton Hewitt. Another won one major (Marin Cilic), and the other two were Slam runners-up (Stefanos Tsitsipas, still only 22 himself, and Tomas Berdych).

Roddick’s triumph at the 2003 U.S. Open remains the most recent Grand Slam singles title for an American man, the longest drought in history for a nation that produced Bill Tilden, Arthur Ashe, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.

Eight-time major champ Agassi just so happens to be a mentor of sorts for Korda; they spent two weeks working together in Las Vegas late last year and speak on the phone frequently.

“The most important thing he told me yesterday was just to enjoy it,” Korda said. “It’s your first time on Centre Court at Wimbledon, just enjoy it, embrace it, have a lot of fun.”

Check. Check. And check.

On Monday, Korda’s 21st birthday, he’ll face No. 25 seed Karen Khachanov, a Russian who eliminated Frances Tiafoe of the U.S. in straight sets.

“I played a little tight. I knew it was a good opportunity,” said Tiafoe, who beat No. 3 seed Tsitsipas in the first round but now has lost to Khachanov at Wimbledon twice since 2018. “I just wanted to win too bad.”

Other men’s fourth-rounders: No. 1 Novak Djokovic against No. 17 Cristian Garin, No. 5 Andrey Rublev against Marton Fucsovics and No. 8 Roberto Bautista Agut against No. 10 Denis Shapovalov, who ended Andy Murray’s first Wimbledon singles appearance since 2017 by defeating the two-time champion 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.

“I can’t say that I’m too pleased with the way I performed. I felt like today I was a bit off, especially with serving,” said Djokovic, who was broken twice in a 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7) victory over American qualifier Denis Kudla that made him 17-0 in Slam matches this season.

Women’s matchups on Monday: No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka vs. No. 18 Elena Rybakina, No. 7 Iga Swiatek vs. No. 21 Ons Jabeur, No. 8 Karolina Pliskova vs. Liudmila Samsonova and No. 23 Madison Keys vs. Viktorija Golubic.

Korda is making his Wimbledon debut and participating in any Grand Slam tournament for only the third time. He made a splash at the French Open last year by getting to the fourth round before losing to his idol, Nadal (Korda’s cat is named after the 20-time major champion).

He’d never been to Centre Court until Friday, as a player, fan or otherwise, and resisted the temptation to pull out his cellphone to shoot some video.

“They always show how the players are walking through all the rooms, then walking down the stairs,” he said. “I just thought to myself: ‘This is nuts. What’s about to happen is going to be something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.’”

Korda showed off a useful serve he varies well, groundstrokes that are strong off both sides and a willingness — well, desire — to go to the net, where he won the point on 30 of 43 trips.

“All credit to him. He played some strong tennis,” said Evans, Britain’s top player at the moment, who was backed by a partisan crowd but found himself muttering toward his coach and cursing enough to earn an official warning. “He’s obviously going to be a very good player.”

___ AP Sports Writer Steven Wine in Miami contributed to this report.

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