Sebastian Korda’s 2023 campaign is a story of building up expectations only to come crashing down. A three-month injury hit him in the worst possible moment, and while there were a few glimpses later on, he never fully recovered his January form. But if he stays healthy next year, there’s still lots to be excited about.
Match point against Djokovic, perfect match vs Medvedev
Korda was peaking in October 2022, making back-to-back finals in Gijon and Antwerp. That might have gone a little under the radar with the post-US Open indoor swing not generating as much interest, but it was a huge narrative by the time we got to January this year. The 23-year-old was out of the blocks extremely early, beating Andy Murray, Roberto Bautista Agut, and Jannik Sinner to get to the Adelaide semifinals (all in straight sets). He advanced to the championship match due to a retirement from Yoshihito Nishioka and had a phenomenal showing against Novak Djokovic, losing 7-6 6-7 4-6 after holding a match point at 7-6 6-5 40-30 up.
The big thing was that it seemed like Korda had covered pretty much all of his weaknesses. The forehand became less wobbly, he was tougher under pressure, and perhaps most importantly, the first serve was an absolute force. He was considered a major dark horse in Melbourne and delivered on that promise, taking out World No. 7 Daniil Medvedev in the third round. It was a flawless performance – aggressive on return, easily closing down the net, and opening up the court with Agassi-like early ball-striking with sharp angles. By that point, everyone was screaming that Korda was likely to break the top 10 this year; that’s how well he was playing.
He also got through the next round in a much messier performance against Hubert Hurkacz. The top half was blowing up and it was easy to consider Korda one of the main favorites to make the final. But little did we know that the match against Hurkacz was actually going to be the American’s last win until Roland Garros. The 23-year-old retired in the Australian Open quarterfinals with a wrist injury, something that apparently had been a factor for him since the latter half of 2022. The injury forced him to take three months off, only returning for the clay season.
Wimbledon early exit after hyping himself up
As such, Korda’s performances on the dirt were just him slowly trying to get back in shape. The American only managed one win in three events, beating Mackenzie McDonald in the opening round at Roland Garros. It wasn’t until a set of stunning performances at Queen’s Club that the expectations went up again. Korda defeated Frances Tiafoe, Dan Evans, and Cameron Norrie before losing in the semifinals to Carlos Alcaraz. The game was there, and having made the second week at Wimbledon before (2021), he was once again a popular dark horse pick for London. He added to that hype himself, saying that he “feels as if [he’s] one of the favorites at Wimbledon”.
As we all know, that didn’t really materialize. Jiri Vesely is always a potential threat in an individual match (2-0 head-to-head against Djokovic being the prime example), but the Czech was still recovering from his own injuries and losing to him round one at SW19 was quite a letdown for Korda after the Queen’s run.
Things didn’t get much better during the North American hard court swing as the 23-year-old won one match in the first three events, and then had to withdraw ahead of the semifinals in Winston-Salem due to a slip he suffered in the win against Richard Gasquet. It’s tough to say how much that impacted his New York performance four days later but he went out in the opening round to Marton Fucsovics, whom he had defeated just the previous week (that’s fine though, the Hungarian’s an ever-dangerous unseeded floater).
Asian Swing brilliance leaving us hopeful for 2024
If that was it for Korda this year, we’d only really remember it for January and have little expectations for the next campaign. But in Zhuhai, Astana, and Shanghai, the American made three consecutive semifinals and came very close to picking up a title with many memorable moments. That four-week stretch had Korda back to his best. After defeating Hamad Medjedovic in three tie-breaks in Astana, he ended up losing from 6-4 3-1 up against Adrian Mannarino. His game fell apart with him close to the finish line (also 1-5 in ATP Tour finals now), but it was still a massive week and he impressively kept that going in Shanghai.
That run was built on another great display against Medvedev, whose defensive court positioning gets heavily exposed in this matchup. A thriller win over Ben Shelton allowed him to make a semifinal at an ATP 1000 for the very first time. Two ways to look at that one as Korda was close to blowing a 6-1 lead in the deciding tie-break, but at the same time showed some resilience to take it after all the chances he had previously missed. He was very flat in the semifinals against Hurkacz, with some patchy execution at the net, but that rich vein of form near the end of 2023 allowed him to cover last year’s indoor swing and still comfortably finish the year in the top 30.
Korda wrapped up his campaign after consecutive opening-round exits in Basel and Paris, one of them rather disappointing (to Tomas Martin Etcheverry, whom he had crashed in their two previous 2023 meetings). He’s currently the 5th highest-ranked American, but it feels like a few of his colleagues have already peaked and will struggle to make progress from here. We’ve yet to see the absolute best version of Korda. If health allows, he’s bound to unleash it sometime soon.
Main Photo Credit: Mike Frey – USA TODAY Sports