Tennis fans in the United States have waited two decades and counting for the next male American player to hoist a Slam trophy. Young stars representing the red, white, and blue like Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz, and Tommy Paul have struggled to consistently string together good results. Reilly Opelka is having a breakthrough year, but his one-dimensional game is not likely to carry him past seven straight opponents at a major.
Now a new wave of American hopefuls like Brandon Nakashima, Jenson Brooksby, and Sebastian Korda are showing promising results at a young age. Out of the talented bunch, 21-year-old prodigy Sebastian Korda, in my opinion, has the greatest potential to put an end to the American Slam drought.
Korda has yet to become a household name, but in a few years, the Bradenton, Florida native is a good bet to become the future of the sport. Sebi, as he is nicknamed, turned pro only three years ago, in 2018, and has skyrocketed from 213th to 40th in the world in the FedEx ATP Rankings during the past year. Now that expectations have been raised, we will see how Sebi handles the transition from an underdog to a favorite. If his performance playing for the first time on Wimbledon Centre Court this year was any indicator of his response to being in the spotlight, Sebi has little to worry about.
In January, Korda made his first ATP final in Delray Beach, and later won his first ATP title on the clay in Parma, Italy. Korda thrives under pressure in best-of-five-sets play at the Slams and has made deep runs to the fourth round of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. This year, he sadly had to retire midway through his first-round match in Flushing Meadows due to sickness.
Sebastian Korda is the prototype of an elite player and possesses all of the tools required to reach the top of the game. At 6’5’’, Sebi has the firepower to dictate play, moves swiftly for his height, has solid groundstrokes, and is comfortable transitioning to the net.
“I love the all-court game of Korda. As he gets stronger physically and his serve and forehand develop a bit more power, he will be a top 10 player competing for grand slam titles. He has tremendous composure,” said ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe.
Despite his physical gifts, what makes the young American so unique is his mental strength and maturity. Korda performs well under pressure, is smart with his shot selection, and is one of the most level-headed players on tour. The remarkable Korda family not only blessed Sebi with world-class genes, but is responsible for how their son conducts himself on the court and approaches his career.
Petr Korda, Sebastian’s father, was formerly ranked 2nd in the world and won the Australian Open in 1998. He primarily coaches his son along with complementary help from former No.1 and eight-time major winner Andre Agassi, and veteran coach Dean Goldfine.
Regina Rajchrtová, Sebastian’s mother, was no stranger to the game herself and reached a career-high ranking of 26th in her playing days. Sebastian has two sisters, Nelly and Jessica, who are professional golfers on the LPGA Tour. At the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, Nelly won the Gold Medal in the individual golf event.
With the support and guidance of such an accomplished athletic family, Sebastian Korda has all the resources to bring American men’s tennis to the center stage. At the trajectory he’s on, Korda should soon be regularly making his way into the headlines.
Sebastian’s assistant coach Dean Goldfine said, “I am ecstatic with the progress Sebi has shown this year and didn’t expect pro-level success to come this quickly. I firmly believe the potential to win major titles is there if Sebi can add velocity to his serve and take advantage of opportunities to move forwards.”
Goldfine also believes that the new wave of American players will motivate and push each other. Having some fellow young countrymen on tour also takes the focus and pressure away from any one player, which is something Korda might benefit from.
Twenty-year-old Jenson Brooksby recently took a set off Djokovic in the round of 16 at the US Open and is quickly racking up wins on tour. The crafty counterpuncher also has world-class potential but will have trouble beating top-ranked players if he doesn’t develop his serve into a weapon and add more power on his groundstrokes. On the other hand, Korda has a more dangerous all-around game that poses a threat to all players.
20-time Slam champion and former World No. 1 Rafael Nadal said of Korda, “[His game has a] good physical look, good serve, good shots from the baseline. I think he's a great guy, [a] complete player,” Nadal said. “He has a lot of things to do in the next years in our sport.”
Korda has the talent and pedigree to compete for major titles with Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, Jannick Sinner, and the rest of the younger field. If Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer ever leave the game, Korda could do major damage in a new generation of tennis.
Robbie Werdiger is a sophomore at Georgetown University. A former standout at Horace Mann High School, Werdiger has competed on the national junior stage and has achieved USTA rankings of top 25 in the eastern section in numerous age groups. Additionally, Robbie has represented team USA at the world Maccabiah Games in Israel in 2017, the third largest international sporting event in the world.