© Peter Staples/ATP Tour

Theodor Devoty and Sebastian Korda prepare on Friday in Milan ahead of the American's semi-final at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals.

Coach Devoty On Korda: 'He Is A Big Fighter'

Devoty has known Korda for 10 years

Sebastian Korda began the season ranked No. 118 in the FedEx ATP Rankings having earned just three tour-level wins. Now the American - who has captured 30 victories at this level in 2021 - is inside the Top 40 and is set to face countryman Brandon Nakashima on Friday in the semi-finals at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals.

This year, Korda lifted his maiden tour-level trophy in Parma and clinched his first Top 10 win in Miami when he overcame then-World No. 9 Diego Schwartzman en route to the quarter-finals at the ATP Masters 1000 event. These results helped Korda secure his place in Milan.

While the focus has been on the 21-year-old, the foundations that have been put in place for Korda have been a crucial factor behind his success. Czech coach Theodor Devoty is a prominent member of his team and has known the World No. 39 since he was 11 years old.

Devoty worked closely with the American’s father Petr Korda, who won the Australian Open in 1998, when the pair trained former World No. 8 Radek Stepanek. After joining Korda’s team in 2020, Devoty’s relationship with his charge has continued to flourish.

Ahead of Korda’s semi-final against Nakashima, Devoty spoke to ATPTour.com about the 21-and-under event in Milan, Korda’s development, his personality and more.

You May Also Like: Korda Relishing Milan Experience

How have you found the tournament in Milan so far?
This tournament was a big goal for Sebi at the beginning of the season and we are here. It is our last tournament, and we are here all as a team except Petr and Dean [Goldfine]. We are enjoying it a lot as this has been a big goal. We are so proud of him and he deserved it. To make the semi-finals is a bonus for us. We have just taken it step by step this week and we are supporting him.

Korda is the second seed here in Milan, what has been the crucial factors behind his rise this year?
He is a big fighter. He played really good matches this season against the top players and beat them. It was key as it gave him the belief he could beat really good players on the Tour. Here he is the second seed and playing players who are around No. 60, 70 in the World, so he sees it as he has to win, and we are doing well so far. But no match is easy here.

He always seems very focused on court and keeps his emotions in check, is this something that comes naturally to him or have you instilled this in Korda over time?
We have been working on his mentality to stay calm. He used to be crying and screaming, but against Musetti on Thursday, I had never seen him so calm. In front of the Italian crowd also. With [Brandon] Nakashima, there are no emotions. Nothing. He has a poker face like Ivan Lendl used to. Sebi was similar on Thursday. I told him he was looking like Lendl. It helps a lot to have this front on court.

How have you found the courtside coaching rule in Milan?
Sebi is not a huge fan of courtside coaching because the whole season, you are fighting on court alone. He is a very smart player and a great player. We are helping him. I am just trying to give him a few small things during the matches. Little comments, but he does not want to talk too much during the matches. These players are gladiators, and it is good when they battle between them. For the fans it is interesting, though.

This year has been pretty special for Sebastian. What do you think of the whole experience considering you have known him since he was young?
I remember when I met him for the first time when he was 11 or 12 and I was working with Radek [Stepanek] and he was the ball kid for us! Now he is two meters tall and 80 kg, and he is where he is and it is an amazing story. It is the whole family. His parents are doing an amazing job and the children are all great.

Korda won his first tour-level title in Parma in May, how proud were you of him then and how important was that week and experience for you guys as a team?
It was a complicated start to the season. We were in Belgrade, Munich and Madrid and he lost in the first round each time. Then we came to our base in Prague and we talked and did two weeks of practise and went to Parma. First round he played [Andreas] Seppi, a tough match. He won in three sets and then it started. That was the first tournament with his girlfriend and he lifted the trophy. He beat [Lorenzo] Sonego and in the final, he beat [Marco] Cecchinato. It was an amazing week and we enjoyed it a lot and it was great. It helped with his confidence.

Korda also enjoyed a run to the fourth round at Wimbledon, how was that for you?
If you asked Sebi, I don’t think he would say he was in shock, but I think he was. The fourth round at a major is amazing. During the match against Karen Khachanov, I was almost crying. In that fifth set, both players lost their serve about eight times. I don’t think this would have happened in history before. You can’t imagine how he was feeling after this defeat. He was very sad. He needed a few days to relax and reset. There is always next week and a new challenge.

Following such a strong season, they is a lot of expectation around him. How as a team are you dealing with this and how important is it to stay in the moment and not look too far ahead?
We are like a family. The fitness guy Marek [Vseticek] was working with Petr for 10 years, Radek for 13 years and now Sebi. I have known Marek for at least 10 years. I have known Petr and Sebi for more than 10 years. We are all friends and like a family together as a team. We have great respect for each other. You can’t focus even three months ahead. You need to focus and get him ready for the next week. He will lose one week and then he will start a new tournament on Monday, which is a new challenge. The short term has to be the focus.

Looking ahead to preseason, what are your plans?
During preseason we will be based in the United States. He wants to stay in Europe for one or two weeks and have some rest after Milan. Then he will come back and after Christmas, we will go to Australia. When Marek saw Sebi for the first time he didn’t have much muscle or anything. But he knows Sebi doesn’t like to spend much time at the gym. He is not that type of guy. Sebi prefers to be out of the gym, but to be able to fight against these top guys he has to do this work. He just has to work hard.

Next season, are there any main goals you have in mind for Sebastian and how will you go about achieving them?
We will talk as a team and then set some goals. We just have to see how he plays. The most important thing is that he is healthy. We will work hard and support him as always as a team, we will do everything. But it is up to him. I hope and believe he can be Top 10 in the future because he has the potential to be there, but we will see.