Friday, October 2, 2020

Qualifier Korda, 20, sets up purr-fect match vs. Nadal

Former world No. 2 Petr Korda, left, the father of Sebastian Korda, chats with
Russian Dmitry Tursunov, a former top-20 player who trained in Northern Cali-
fornia as a junior and professional, during the 2018 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Sebastian Korda idolizes Rafael Nadal so much that the 20-year-old American named his cat after the Spanish star.
   The players will meet for the first time Sunday in the fourth round of the French Open in Paris.
   "I'm praying that (Rafa) wins," Korda said today in a Tennis Channel interview before Nadal's 6-1, 6-4, 6-0 victory over Italy's Stefano Travaglia. "He's my biggest idol. He's one of the reasons I play tennis. Just watching him play, (he is an) 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."
   The 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) Korda, who was 0-3 at the tour level entering the French Open, dominated fellow qualifier Pedro Martinez of Spain 6-4, 6-3, 6-1. Korda became the first qualifier to reach the round of 16 at Roland Garros since Alejandro Falla of Chile in 2011.
   In addition, Korda, ranked No. 213, and 20-year-old Frenchman Hugo Gaston, a wild card ranked No. 239, became the first players ranked outside the top 200 to gain the fourth round of the French Open since No. 283 Arnaud Di Pasquale of France in 2002.
   Gaston — a 5-foot-8 (1.73-meter), 149-pound (68-kilogram) left-hander — eliminated 16th-seeded Stan Wawrinka, the 2015 champion, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0. Wawrinka, 35, underwent two operations on his left knee in 2017.
   Korda, who ousted No. 1 American John Isner in the second round, is the only U.S. man left in singles following 27th-seeded Taylor Fritz's 7-6 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (17) loss to Italian drop-shot artist Lorenzo Sonego. The 30-minute, third-set tiebreaker, which ended on Sonego's seventh match point, was the second-longest in Grand Slam history.
   Fritz won consecutive Northern California Challengers in Sacramento and Fairfield at 17 in 2015.
   Korda has played in four NorCal Challengers, reaching the third round of qualifying in Stockton at 17 in 2017, losing in the first round of qualifying in Tiburon and Stockton in 2018, and advancing to the second round of the main draw in Fairfield last October.
   A native and resident of Bradenton, Fla., Korda is part of a family of professional athletes. His father, Petr Korda from the Czech Republic, reached the final of the 1992 French Open and climbed to a career-high No. 2 after winning the 1998 Australian Open. 
   Rail thin, Petr Korda tested positive for doping later in 1998 and was suspended for 12 months. He retired at age 30 shortly before the ban took effect.
   Sebastian's Czech mother, Regina Rajchrtova, peaked at No. 26 on the women's tour in 1991, and his sisters — Jessica, 27, and Nelly, 22 — play on the LPGA Tour.
   "(My dad is) incredibly supportive," said Sebastian, who will soar 82 places to a career-high of at least No. 131 after the French Open. "My goal in life is to win two Grand Slams so I have one more than he has. That's what I'm going for.
   "Both my parents are incredible. With the way that everything is going right now, they're super proud. I can't be more grateful for them."
   U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem, seeded third, and runner-up Alexander Zverev, seeded sixth, advanced in straight sets. Thiem has reached the last two French Open finals, losing to Nadal each time.
   Meanwhile, two qualifiers reached the fourth round of women's singles. 
   Martina Trevisan, a 5-foot-3 (1.60-meter) Italian left-hander ranked No. 159, saved two match points in a 1-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3 win over 20th-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece. Sakkari advanced to the final of the inaugural Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif., in 2018.
   Nadia Podoroska, the top-ranked Argentine at No. 131, outclassed Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia 6-3, 6-2. Schmiedlova was coming off a 6-2, 6-2 victory over 10th-seeded Victoria Azarenka, the U.S. Open runner-up three weeks ago.
   Top-seeded Simona Halep demolished 25th-seeded Amanda Anisimova 6-0, 6-1 in 54 minutes to avenge a loss to the U.S. teenager in last year's quarterfinals. Anisimova, whose father died in August 2019, won her first professional title at 15 in the 2017 Sacramento Challenger.
   Third-seeded Elina Svitolina, a French Open quarterfinalist in 2015 and 2017, and fifth-seeded Kiki Bertens, a semifinalist at Roland Garros in 2016, won in straight sets.
   France's Caroline Garcia, who has tumbled from a career-high No. 4 in 2018 to No. 45, topped 16th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium 1-6, 6-4, 7-5.
   In the second round of doubles:
   —Third-seeded Rajeev Ram, a volunteer assistant coach at the University of California, Berkeley, and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain routed Alex de Minaur and Matt Reid of Australia 6-3, 6-1 in 51 minutes. 
   Ram, 36, and Salisbury, 28, won their first Grand Slam men's doubles title, together or separately, in this year's Australian Open.
   —Seventh-seeded Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara of Japan edged Cornelia Lister of Sweden and Shelby Rogers of Charleston, S.C., 6-7 (7), 6-2, 7-6 (4).
   Shibahara, 22, was born in Mountain View in the San Francisco Bay Area and starred at UCLA.

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