Korda Remains Calm, Cool Under Pressure In Reaching Shanghai Masters Final Four

Sebastian Korda (photo: ATP Tour video)

SHANGHAI/WASHINGTON, October 12, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

The first all-United States ATP Masters 1000 Masters quarterfinal in six years, between Ben Shelton and Sebastian Korda at the Rolex Shanghai Masters Thursday evening, provided fans at Qi Zhong Tennis Center in China’s main industrial city as well as those watching on television sets around the world with plenty of great drama and excitement.

It included a 65-minute first set culminated by a thrilling 22-point tie-break and, later, a decisive third-set tie-break, in which Shelton came back from the brink of defeat and saved five match points after being down 6-1. Throughout, there was plenty of flash and panache, not to mention Shelton’s booming lefty serve, which accounted for 17 aces – and lots of heart and character and respect – from these two great young athletes and friends in very different ways.

When the match was over after nearly three hours of riveting play, won by the cool, calm and collected Korda 7-6 (10), 2-6, 7-6 (6) over the 20-year-old Shelton to reach his first Masters 1000 semifinal, it showed that American tennis is in good and capable hands. The two exchanged a very warm, collegial handshake and embrace at the net – plenty of good spirit – and all was good between them as they walked of the court together.

“It’s super cool,” said Korda during his on-court interview with the ATP media, describing his reaction to achieving his first Masters 1000 semifinal. “I played a really high level. Ben did as well, so I think it was a really high level. We had a lot of great points out there and hopefully, it’s the first of many battles that we play against each other.

“He’s such an electric player and it was a lot of fun to share the court with him today.”

Korda becomes the first American semifinalist in Shanghai tournament history. He won on his sixth match point opportunity after striking his 34th winner, a running volley forehand coming into the net that eluded Shelton’s grasp. Korda outpointed Shelton 118-106 in the first Masters 1000 quarterfinal between two Americans since John Isner beat Jared Donaldson at Cincinnati in 2017. It was Korda’s seventh Top 20 triumph of the season and second at Shanghai after knocking off World No. 3 Daniil Medvedev in the third round.

By the end of his win over Shelton, Korda showed plenty of nerve in the face of adversity after failing to close out the tie-break early. “I’m just thankful to stay calm,” he said of the decisive tie-break, in which he jumped ahead 6-1 only to have Shelton tie it at 6-all before the 23-year-old Floridian won the final two points.

“I played some bad points but I always believed in myself – even at 6-all. I just thought about putting the return in the court, somehow getting my racquet on it. Luckily I finished it off.”

Korda, who improved to 26-13, is coming off a recent final at the Astana Open and is through to his third straight semifinal. “I’ve been playing some really good tennis the past couple of weeks,” he said. “I had a good result in Zhuhai,  then went to Astana and made the final and now the semis here. I’m playing some good tennis now and hopefully I can keep it going and keep playing the way I’m playing.”

Earlier, No. 16 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland prevailed over Hungary’s Fabian Marozsan, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3, in an hour and 43 minutes, losing just nine points on his serve over the final two sets and improving his Masters 1000 quarterfinal record to 6-5. Also, it was Hurkacz’s Tour-leading 21st deciding-set win of the season – including back-to-back three-set wins in Shanghai – and it improved his overall win-loss record to 37-20.

After struggling in the opening set against the 91st-ranked Marozsan, Hurkacz maintained his cool and focus as the match wore on. He struck 39 winners, including 16 aces, and converted five of 11 break-point chances. Now, he’s on to the last four against Korda.

“He came with some really great shots and I just needed to stay positive and keep committing to,the game plan,” Hurkacz said in his on-court interview. “To be aggressive, because if I dropped anything short he was just taking advantage of it and coming with some really incredible shots. I knew I had to stay on point today.”

Despite losing, the 24-year-old Marozsan will rise 26 spots to a new career-best No. 65 when the ATP rankings are updated on Monday after scoring earlier victories against Arthur Rinderknech, No. 11 seed Alex de Minaur, Dusan Lajovic and No. 8 seed Casper Ruud.

By the numbers

Hubert Hurkacz has reached the quarterfinal stage or better at eight of nine ATP Masters 1000 events (except Rome), including 2021 Miami title, 2022 Montreal final and semifinals at 2021 Paris, 2022 Miami and 2023 Cincinnati.

“Quotable …”

“Definitely, really pleased with my performance. You know, we’ve been putting a lot into the preparation here and, yeah, every single match has been really challenging and tricky. Fortunately, I was able to come through those challenges, and looking forward to the next one.”

Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, during his post-match press conference after defeating Fabian Marozsan, summarizing his performance this week in Shanghai.

“I think in those certain moments you got to stay really calm. You can have such a big lead like that and you could just completely panic or get super down on yourself and just get lost.

“I think that’s one of the biggest things both of my parents really taught me is to, you know, is always believe in yourself, no matter the situation, to just really go after it. Whatever happens, happens, you just got to believe in yourself, go after it and just enjoy the moment. It’s still a super nervous moment, for sure, but in those moments you really do enjoy them. You just want to be on the victory side of things.”

Sebastian Korda of the United States, during his post-match press conference after beating Ben Shelton, describing how he managed the final-set tie break, in which it took him six match points to put away the victory.