Australian Open

Sebastian Korda and the benefits of new challenges

Yes, Sebastian Korda received quite a lot of help from Hubert Hurkacz in the fourth round of the Australian Open. In a seesaw match marked with bad patches of play from both men — including and especially in the climactic final-set supertiebreaker — Korda was the last man standing. He won because Hurkacz gifted him a lot of important points, and because he was able to piece together a few good serves at the very end to seal the deal. He was far from his best. His nerves wobbled under pressure.

His opponent wobbled to an even greater degree.

Sometimes, that’s how competitions are decided — not by one athlete being greater and transcending, but by the other athlete faltering and sinking lower than the opponent. Hurkacz lost more than Korda won.

Yet, in the end, who cares?

Sebastian Korda might have received ample help from Hurkacz, but he is in his first major quarterfinal nonetheless. He won the match AFTER the match. He won a match after his coming-out party against Daniil Medvedev. Even though he was shaky against Hurkacz, the simple reality of winning will enable Korda to realize he can display even more mental toughness in the future. He can be even stronger and more prepared for these kinds of situations. He can walk onto the court and handle bigger amounts of pressure and become familiar with that thinner air, breathed at a higher altitude of big-tournament stakes.

The simple fact that Korda gets to collect more big-stage experiences while advancing deeper into a major than ever before makes this Australian Open a success. It will be a success even if he loses to Karen Khachanov in the quarterfinals. He can walk away from Melbourne, win or lose, with so many new experiences he can call upon in the future, building the awareness and the muscle memory great athletes must necessarily attain on the road to ultimate greatness.

Korda really needed to win the match after the Medvedev match. He did. The fact that it was ugly as hell is secondary. The fact that he gets another match at this tournament — winning while still being humbled by his display of frailty versus Hurkacz — makes this Australian Open an undeniable forward step for his career.

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