Recently, Serena Williams revealed she was ‘distraught’ when her baby daughter, Alexis Olympia, sat ‘transfixed’ whilst watching Juan Martin del Potro commanding the tennis court.
“I would hate for her to have to deal with comparisons or expectations,” the 23-time Grand Slam champion reported in an interview for Vogue.
It has to be tough for the likes of Serena, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and any other top tennis player currently parenting young children: torn between wishing your child to share a love for your sport, and wishing them to pursue a career in which they will not be walking in your shadow.
Still, some offspring will step up to brave the battlefield and take on the professional tennis circuit, years after one or both of their parents have made names for themselves in that arena. The latest youngster to do this and experience some success is 17-year-old Sebastian Korda: recent winner of the 2018 Australian Open boys title. The American teenager had never been beyond the third round of a junior Grand Slam before beating Taiwan’s Tseng Chung-Hsin 7-6(6) 6-4 in a close Melbourne final.
The timing of Korda’s recent victory has made him even more of a story than he would otherwise have been. For his maiden Grand Slam title came exactly 20 years after his father, Petr Korda, won his first and only major trophy at the Australian Open.
With a post-match celebration that honours his father, ‘Sebi’ seems ready to handle the external pressure that comes with being Petr Korda’s son. But it is the years to come that will really show how far he can go. Junior success is no guarantee of senior greatness.
I spoke to Korda in July last season – a few days before his 17th birthday, and minutes after he had played a match on grass-courts for the first time. We were at The Boodles event in Buckinghamshire – a relaxed exhibition event designed to tune the players up for Wimbledon. The junior star had invited his close friend, Nicolas Mejia, along for the ride, and what struck me about both of them was how simultaneously enthusiastic and humble they both were. Korda – who first played tennis at the age of 10, and names Rafael Nadal as one of his favourite pros – interacted with the waiting fans with ease after his 10-9 (7-5) mini-victory, and was laid back when I came to him for quotes.
“Extremely fun week and a lot of hard work, as well,” he reflected.
“I came [here on] Sunday and I’ve been practicing all week with the pros and my dad. It was definitely one of the best weeks of my life.”
This maiden clash on the lawns came a matter of days before Korda was to play his maiden junior Wimbledon tournament, and provided the perfect opportunity to discover how he dealt mentally with that kind of occasion.
“I’m a little nervous, but it will definitely be a good experience,” he said of the upcoming event. “Of course I think I can win each [junior tournament] I enter, but I just have fun out there and whatever happens, happens.
“Playing junior Slams definitely has a special feeling to it. There’s a lot of pressure, but that’s normal at a Grand Slam.”
Perhaps playing to ‘have fun’, and acknowledging but accepting the pressure, are vital ingredients for upcoming talents like Korda to succeed. The 6 foot 4 inch teen is fairly new to the junior Grand Slam scene, but he already has a trophy under his belt.
And while junior success is no guarantee of a senior career, it is surely better to have it than to go without it.
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