It was so close, yet so far for Sebastian Korda in Indian Wells on Saturday.
The 21-year-old American held a 5-2 lead with a double break in the deciding set of his second-round match with Rafael Nadal at the BNP Paribas Open, but the Spaniard showed trademark grit to secure a 6-2, 1-6, 7-6(3) comeback victory on Stadium 1.
Despite the disappointment of defeat, Korda was pleased with how he pushed the 21-time Grand Slam champion, who has still not lost a match in 2022.
“It is what it is,” the World No. 38 said in his post-match press conference. “I played a really good match, brought out the best in me, put him in a tough situation. But he does what he does best and always comes back and fights. I mean, it sucks, but overall, very happy.
“He’s an incredible fighter. Probably one of the greatest fighters of all time.”
Such a measured reaction to a tough loss reflects a wise head on young shoulders, and Korda’s general calm demeanour has become a stand-out feature of his rise up the ATP Rankings. The 2021 Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals runner-up believes maintaining this approach, even when the going gets tough, is key to producing his best tennis on a consistent basis.
“I think I do a pretty good job in 99% of my matches,” said the American. “Occasionally I’ll get a little upset and I’ll show some emotion. But usually, I’m pretty good with just staying calm and staying on course. I thank my mom a lot for that. Whenever I started playing tennis, she kind of put the poker face in me and just told myself to always stay calm and always show some good emotions, never be negative.
“I think I use it really well. I don’t think my opponents really know what’s going on in my head at any point in the match. I think it’s a really big tool for me.”
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As he seeks further improvements in just his second full season on the ATP Tour, Korda will draw on his strong showing against Nadal to give him belief when facing the biggest names.
“I kind of proved to myself that I can play with anyone,” said Korda. “I have a really big game. Now I just have to use the momentum that I built here and keep working hard, and just try and break that barrier of beating the top-level players.”
That also applies to any potential future meetings with Nadal himself, a player Korda describes as his “idol in tennis.” The 2021 Parma champion had the chance to spend more time with the legendary Spaniard this week, the pair playing a practice set before Korda’s first-round victory against Thanasi Kokkinakis.
“Every single time I practice with him or play with him, I feel I’m getting better and better,” said Korda. “It’s progress. He’s one of the greatest players of all time right now. He’s super hot, hasn’t lost a match this year. To kind of push him to the edge was awesome. Shows a lot of my game, how dangerous it can be against tough opponents.
“To be that close, it’s a lot of positives. It shows me that my game is going to hurt a lot of people. People are going to get nervous. People are going to get worried.”