Sebastian Korda is on a French Open run. Is Olympic history in his family’s future?

Sebastian Korda
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Sebastian Korda is the youngest U.S. man to reach a French Open fourth round since Michael Chang in 1991. Next year (or in 2024), the Korda family could achieve something unprecedented at the Olympics.

Korda, 20, beat a fellow main-draw qualifier, Spaniard Pedro Martinez, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 at Roland Garros on Friday. His run in Paris should end on Sunday, given Rafael Nadal is his next opponent in the round of 16.

Regardless, it will be a special day.

“He’s my biggest idol,” Korda said. “I named my cat after him.”

Nadal was told this.

“Happy to hear that,” the Spaniard said. “That means that I have been on the TV for such a long time.”

Like Nadal, the Korda name, first made famous by Czech father and 1998 Australian Open champion Petr, won’t be leaving the sports lexicon any time soon.

Older sisters Nelly, 22, and Jessica, 27, are Nos. 2 and 22 in world golf rankings. At least one of them appears destined for the Tokyo Olympics next year, given a nation can send four golfers per gender to the Games if ranked in the top 15.

Korda said that Nelly is his best friend. He was up past midnight in Prague last month, stressing out as he watched her lose in a playoff in a bid to win her first major, the ANA Inspiration in California.

“They’d be both unbelievable tennis players,” said Korda, who beat both sisters in his one and only golf tournament around age 11 and said he could be a two or three handicap. “I golfed a lot my whole life. My dad is a club champion where we live. So, yeah, we’re all pretty good golfers.”

If he can join either sister in Tokyo, they would become the first U.S. brother and sister to compete in the same Olympics in different sports, according to Olympic historian Bill Mallon of the OlyMADMen and Olympedia.org.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Others competed in the same sport, such as ice dancers Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani in 2014 and 2018.

Others participated in different sports at different Olympics, like LeLei Fonoimoana, a silver medalist swimmer in 1976, and Eric Fonoimoana, a gold medalist in beach volleyball in 2000.

Roger Young and Sheila Young competed in different sports at the Olympics in 1972, though Roger cycled in the Summer Games and Sheila speed skated at the Winter Games.

Petr never competed at the Olympics.

“My goal in life is to win two Grand Slams,” Korda said, “so I have one more than he has.”

When Korda switched from ice hockey to tennis about a decade ago, inspired by watching Czech Radek Stepanek play at the U.S. Open, his dad was traveling with and caddying for Jessica.

So he learned tennis from his mom. Regina Rajchrtova played at the 1988 Seoul Olympics for Czechoslovakia, a year before making a clay-court final in Paris in the autumn — the Open Clarins.

“The way my strokes are and everything is because she’s the one that kind of tuned it that way,” Korda said. “We spent a lot of time on court together when I was a kid. Probably more than with my dad.”

Korda’s potential path to the Olympics is a little more complicated than for his sisters. Normally, his 180 ranking points gained this week, 10 months before the Games, would be a boost in Olympic qualifying.

But, since Olympic tennis qualifying uses world rankings immediately after the 2021 French Open, the 2020 French Open results will not factor into who goes to Tokyo.

And Korda is just breaking into the top level of senior tennis, so he has few other significant, point-accumulating results.

He would need a very strong start to 2021 to break into the mix, not out of the question given his success in his second Grand Slam main draw this week.

The U.S. can send four male singles players to the Olympics, assuming they are among the 64 worldwide qualifiers.

Veterans John Isner and Sam Querrey indicated in January they were at least leaning toward skipping the Tokyo Games, opening opportunities for younger U.S. players. That was before the coronavirus pandemic forced the Olympic postponement to 2021.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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