Challenger First-Time Winner Spotlight: Sebastian Korda
20-year-old American speaks to ATPTour.com after winning his first ATP Challenger Tour title in Eckental
On Sunday, Sebastian Korda entered the winners' circle for the first time on the ATP Challenger Tour. It was a long-awaited maiden title for the Florida native, who triumphed on the carpet courts of Eckental, Germany. The victory was not only his first on the Challenger circuit, but Korda's first as a professional. He most recently lifted a trophy at the Australian Open junior event in 2018 and, nearly three years later, finally broke through at the pro level.
Korda carried the momentum from a run to the second week at Roland Garros, where he eventually fell to idol Rafael Nadal in the Round of 16. It was a breakthrough fortnight for the 20-year-old and he has not looked back since, reeling off a combined 13 of 15 matches from the start of that memorable run in Paris. His reward: a career-high of No. 116 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.
Korda spoke with ATPTour.com after taking the title in Eckental...
Sebi, congrats on winning your first Challenger title. How did it feel to lift your first trophy as a professional?
I'm super happy. It was just an awesome week. It's been a journey to get here. I'm pretty happy with the way I played the whole week and it's great to get my first professional title.
What made the difference on Sunday? You've admitted that it's been a struggle for you in finals in your career, so what changed this time?
I think every final I played went three sets. I lost a couple 7-5 in the third and the most recent one to J.J. Wolf was 7-6 in the third with a match point [in Champaign in 2019]. So, I've learned a lot from these matches, just to stay calm, not lose my mind and not get frustrated with the smallest things. On Sunday, Ram [Ramkumar Ramanathan] was getting frustrated with the umpire and I just stayed calm and I think that was the big key.
Your first title came on a surface you've never played on before. How did you get comfortable on carpet?
The week before I played in Ismaning and that was on carpet as well. And it was in altitude, so the ball was flying like no tomorrow. It was super tough and I tried to get comfortable with my movement. It's very different and you can't slide at all on it, or else you'll end up breaking something. I got comfortable in Ismaning and while Eckental was a bit slower, that helped me a lot.
Going back to that final against J.J. Wolf a year ago, what did you learn from the experience? Losing in a deciding tie-break is never easy, but what did you take away from that?
Just staying focused in the big moments. Against J.J., we both played a great match. There were a lot of ups and downs, but when I got the chance to take the lead and keep it, I gave it away. But I would say being able to hold onto a good lead and play comfortable tennis after.
We know you're very close with your family. Did your phone blow up after the match? Who were you speaking to?
I talked to both my parents and both my sisters. They were super hyped up. After every win and every loss I always get a message from them. They're all incredibly supportive and I don't think any of this would be possible without them. They're such a big help, just keeping me sane when I'm at a tournament for a long time. They do a great job.
How important is a week like this as you continue to develop and grow? We know you've been working to lift this trophy for a long time.
My parents have said how important it is to build my career brick-by-brick. They're all about patience and not rushing. So this was a big relief for me. I wasn't lucky with some of the finals I've played, but today I pulled through and played a really good match.
You went from playing Rafa on one of the game's biggest stages at Roland Garros, to coming back to the Challenger level. That is never easy for any player. How did you navigate that transition?
I think the biggest thing was the [COVID-19] break we had in the middle of the year. It wasn't easy for anybody, but I took it in a positive way. I stayed focused on what I wanted to achieve and how I wanted to come back and play tennis. That experience helped me throughout the restart. I kept that positivity in every tournament. In Ismaning I got a little frustrated, but this whole week whether I was playing bad or good I stayed positive. I don't think I said any negative words and I'm pretty proud of myself and how I played. The break that we had really prepared me for this.
Describe the COVID break and what you worked on in those five months. You were in Bradenton with Michael Mmoh and some other top pros, right?
We had a really good group of guys. It was me, Mike, Denis Shapovalov, Paolo Lorenzi and some juniors. We put in a lot of hard work. We practised every day from 12-2pm in the hottest time of the day. We were all cooked but working very hard. That helped us play some good tennis right now.
My fitness trainer was in the Czech Republic, so he couldn't see me. I really had to do everything myself, so that disciplined me. That helped me mentally to keep working through it all.
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We know it's a difficult time in Germany now with the virus. How did they make you guys feel comfortable and safe?
They did a really good job. The courts were about 10 minutes away from the hotel and there were two good restaurants at the hotel. Everything was great. The whole country is on lockdown, but they did a super job making the players feel comfortable for sure.
You started the year outside the Top 250 and now you're close to the Top 100. How do you look back on 2020?
With the way the ranking is now, it's even harder to move up. Nobody loses points, but that's just how everything is now. If somebody told me that I'd qualify for the French Open and make the fourth round and play Rafa, and then win my first Challenger title, I'd take that no matter what. It's been a really good year for me and hopefully I can start in a good spot in 2021. I'm still signed up for Orlando next week, so we'll see how that goes.