Not many players in recent years have made a splash quite like Sebastian Korda in 2021. Ranked No. 242 at the start of 2020, the Prodigal Son of arguably the world’s most athletic family has skyrocketed into the world’s Top 50 with no signs of slowing down. But with an increased ranking comes a relentless barrage of elite competition. Korda played well in his loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas on Wednesday night in Cincinnati, but was unable to summon his best tennis in the crucial moments, resulting in a straight-set, 7-6 (5), 6-3, victory for the Greek.

Tsitsipas inserted himself in most of the American’s service games, but was unable to capitalize on his two break point opportunities in the first set. Korda won just one love service game in the match, but his front foot tennis forced Tsitsipas to play defense—which on a slick hardcourt—is not his greatest strength.

But at 5-5 in the first-set tiebreak, a tentative Korda hit a backhand approach a bit too gingerly and paid the price.

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Korda can rip this backhand for a clean winner in his sleep, but he was cautious, and it cost him the set.  

With the set in hand, Tsitsipas was able to free up his groundstrokes. He lost just two points on serve in the second set and broke Korda’s serve at 3-3 and 5-3 to win the match and cover his game spread of -3.5.

The journey to the top is full of peaks, plateaus and valleys. The relentless 11-month season is both mentally and physically exhausting. It’s unlikely Korda has fully recovered from the lower-back injury that forced him to withdraw from Toronto, but the 21-year-old proved he is perfectly capable of beating an opponent like Tsitsipas at what may or may not have been full health.

It may seem like a slump for Korda, but in his recent 7-4 stretch he has only lost to Karen Khachanov, Ugo Humbert, Jannik Sinner and a Greek God.

Tsitsipas—who, according to UTR’s new analytics tool—has a 20 percent chance to win the tournament, will face off against Lorenzo Sonego in the third round.