Sebastian Korda finished his 2020 season on a high note, reaching the Roland Garros fourth round and earning the opportunity to play his lifelong idol, Rafael Nadal. Although the King of Clay dispatched him with ease, it was an important step in his development—there is nothing more daunting in tennis, or any sport, than facing Nadal at the French Open.
After a busy offseason spent training with his dad Petr—as well as Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf—Korda picked up where he left off, defeating a tough first-round opponent in SoonWoo Kwon, 6-4, 6-4. The 20-year-old will now test his game against fellow rising American star, the extremely talented Tommy Paul. As expected, Paul dismissed Ji-sung Nam—a player who has yet to win an ATP Tour-level singles match—on Thursday, without breaking a sweat.
Though Paul and Korda have yet to face off, they are certainly familiar with each other’s games, and are two of the kindest, most genuine competitors on the ATP circuit.
Blessed with a big serve and pure groundstrokes from both sides, Korda’s offseason focus was to strengthen his body to prepare for the grueling 11-month season.
“We put in a lot of work during the break and I’m super happy with how everything is going right now,” Korda said. “Whenever I get a chance to play a big tournament like here, it’s always a privilege and I always have a smile on my face. I kind of enjoy it a little bit more because I know how tough it is to get here."
Korda’s offseason strength training was immediately on display, highlighted by this lunging backhand pass.
Korda says that his goal in each match is to serve well and come to the net as often as possible, but he’ll need to pick his spots wisely, as Paul is perhaps the best mover in American men’s tennis. Korda will need to work the point aggressively, and come to the net at the right times, like this.
Paul’s forehand is his best shot, but because it's so dangerous, he’s spent a lifetime coming up with passing shots on his backhand side. One of the biggest mistakes you can make against him is to test his backhand with a mediocre approach.
But unlike Korda’s first-round opponent, Paul has a vast repertoire of shots. He puts his opponents in uncomfortable positions, takes returns early, and baits them to come forward. His talent allows him to hit shots that most other players wouldn’t even attempt. Here, he takes his return extremely early, and follows it up with a back-footed crosscourt angle winner. Do not try this at home.
According to the oddsmakers, Paul is listed as a slight -150 favorite. This match could go either way, but in the end, expect Paul’s combination of variety and shotmaking to outclass Korda in this first encounter.
The Pick: Tommy Paul
2021 Pick Record: 3-0