MATCH POINT: Korda double faults to see D.C. singles campaign end

“We’re going to be seeing these two in Grand Slam finals someday,” is a phrase we hear whenever two young tennis stars face off. Sometimes that’s an easy prediction to make. Everyone knew the first match between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, at Roland Garros in 2006, was a preview of bigger showdowns to come. Other times, maybe most times, our hopes don’t pan out. A few years ago, some of us believed that an early match between Madison Keys and Monica Puig, also at Roland Garros, might be a harbinger of major finals. So far they haven’t come to pass.

The future was in the air again at the Citi Open on Thursday afternoon, when Jannik Sinner and Sebastian Korda met for the first time in the stadium court. The Italian is 19 and ranked No. 24; the American is 21 and ranked No. 45. That makes them two of the youngest, and mostly highly touted, players in the Top 50—the Next Next Gen.

Sinner is two years younger than Korda, but he has been a known quantity for longer. Korda, son of Petr, has obviously been in the pipeline, but he has only begun to make inroads on tour this season. It may have been that little bit of extra experience that gave Sinner the edge at the end of each set, and ultimately gave him a 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3) win in Washington, D.C.

Sinner and Korda have both had excellent coaching—Sinner from ATP veteran Ricardo Piatti, Korda from his mom and dad—and it shows. Serves, ground strokes, volleys: There’s nary a glitch in any of them, and their timing lets them generate maximum power with seemingly little effort. Especially Sinner: The average speed on his shots is nearly 80 m.p.h., which puts him at the top of the tour. Both of these guys are worth watching for their two-handed backhands alone. See them rifle a few dozen winners from that side and you might start to believe the two-hander can be just as appealing as a classic one-hander. Their maturity extends beyond their technique, too; Sinner and Korda each bring a level, thoughtful head to the court.


Sinner is playing doubles with Korda this week at the ATP 500 event.

Sinner is playing doubles with Korda this week at the ATP 500 event.

Yet for all of their precocity, both guys looked a little raw today. Their games went up and down, their errors came in bunches, and they struggled to close out sets. They double faulted five times each and surrendered their serves three times each. Sinner served for the first set and was broken. Korda served for the second set twice, and was broken both times.

“Was a little bit of a tight match,” Sinner said of the early going, “we were not playing so well.”

When it mattered most, in the two tiebreakers, Sinner played better and Korda played worse. From 3-3 in the first-set tiebreaker, Korda hit a forehand long, a forehand into the net, a backhand wide, and a forehand long. In the second set tiebreaker, Sinner opened with a winning forehand, a touch volley winner, and an ace. Korda closed the match with his fifth double fault.

Afterward, it was left to the younger man to sing the praises of his older but less-experienced opponent in front of his home crowd.

“He was playing much better than me in the second set,” Sinner said of Korda, “so congrats to him.”

Sinner got the better of Korda today, but he seemed to be thinking what a lot of us were thinking: These two are going to see a lot more of each other, on much bigger stages, in the coming years.