In terms of matches which shaped the battle for the 2022 Australian Open championship, Sebastian Korda’s win over Cam Norrie was hardly the most important on Day 1 of the fortnight in Melbourne.
Korda isn’t ready to play in major semifinals (or at least, it’s too early to begin thinking that way). A match involving a top-10 seed would be more significant in terms of identifying challengers to Daniil Medvedev, who is now the obvious men’s favorite with Novak Djokovic unable to play in the tournament.
Matteo Berrettini overcame health worries to advance in his first-round match. If that health scare is minor (he took a medical timeout during the match), he can make a run.
Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, and the other usual suspects carry more championship possibilities into their matches than Korda did in Round 1. On that scale, this wasn’t the biggest men’s match on Day 1 in Australia.
However, Korda’s easy, breezy, 3-0-4 win over Norrie, the No. 12 seed, felt like a true revealer … and a revealer of truth.
What do I mean?
I mean that as much as Norrie earned his Indian Wells championship, that tournament felt at the time like a post-U.S. Open instance of a player pouncing on the lull which occurs for a lot of pros after the final major of the year. There is usually if not always an October surprise or two in tennis. Anett Kontaveit was that player on the WTA Tour. Norrie fit the bill for the men. In many cases, that October riser then falls at the start of the new calendar year. It’s not underachievement so much as having overachieved in October, when the pressure was less significant and the attention of the tour was not as focused. It’s not a negative commentary on Norrie, more that he pounced on an opportunity when it was there, bagging a career-making title and the paycheck to match.
In terms of where players stand, though — in terms of ceilings and floors and potential and all these other ways we have to measure the capacity of athletes — Korda d. Norrie felt like a clear and resonant event.
Sebastian Korda showed his promise in 2021. We all knew that with offseason work, and with time for his body to fill out, which would naturally beef up his serve and enhance his strokes, Korda’s quality would only continue to improve.
Norrie, meanwhile, lost to a diminished version of Roger Federer at Wimbledon, putting up a fight but playing well below the ceiling of his capacity. Norrie was the seeded player, Korda the youngster, but Korda certainly carried more potential into this match than Norrie did. The player with the brighter and more expansive future won 18 games to 7.
It certainly feels like the true measure of where these players stand in men’s tennis, and perhaps more precisely, where they are headed in 2022 and beyond.