Sebastian Korda was celebrating his 21st birthday but the big present he was hoping to unwrap, a quarter-final place at The Championships on his Wimbledon debut, was cruelly denied him by Karen Khachanov, the 25th seed from Russia.
At the end, the one who dealt better wins the match. It was more about this rather than, okay, who plays better, who plays bigger. At the end, these important moments, this is where it counts Karen Khachanov
With both player attempting to make the last eight, it seemed, at the start that the prize was going Korda’s way as he swept through the first set in 29-minutes but little did the spectators realise what was to come on the second Monday of the Fortnight!
The day is traditionally known as Manic Monday and the match fitted the bill perfectly for, having lost the first set, Khachanov rallied to take the next two and then lost his way as Korda fought back to level at two sets all!
The first two sets had been basically decided by a break in each while both men started to show some nerves in the third as the two traded breaks, but it was Korda who eventually captured it.
Up to that point the pair had played at a high level, with some excellent exchanges including several forays forward to the net, either pulled in or intentional.
The deciding fifth set became a match in itself with both players pressing to gain the advantage, but then failing to capitalise on it.
There were 13 breaks of serve – a Wimbledon record for a set – before the Russian finally won the match 3-6 6-4 6-3 5-7 10-8 after three hours and 49-minutes on his fourth match point after hitting 25 winners and 19 aces!
Reflecting on his loss later, and, more specifically that fifth set, Korda said: “I fought my hardest. I don’t know what was happening out there,” and with a smile, added “We just couldn’t hold serve!
“We were playing some clutch tennis when we needed it, both of us. Yeah, hats off to him. He played a great match.
“I have never been a part of anything like that. That was definitely the first and hopefully, the last!
“But, yeah, we were just returning well — we were on top of every serve basically.”
And considering it was his 21st birthday, was he disappointed?
“It was awesome. Ever since I decided to play tennis, I always dreamed about having my birthday here at Wimbledon. I knew if I would have my birthday here, I’d have a really good week. Hopefully many more. Yeah, it was an awesome day today.”
He later added on his time at The Championships: “I’m incredibly happy. First time playing at Wimbledon, and made the second week, which was incredible. Hopefully I can learn from the mistakes that I made today and use it for the next time. I’m in the fourth round. Last time I was in the fourth round I didn’t win a set. I played against Nadal!
“Today I played my first-ever five-set match. It was a whole new experience for me. I’m just learning. I mean, every tournament I’m learning new things and, yeah, it’s probably the best thing I could do for myself right now.”
When Khachanov faced the press later, he was also asked to explain that fifth set.
“It’s tough to explain,” he replied. “But then it’s also easy. When you are returning, let’s say, better, you start to read the serves better, and then in play, in the rallies, both of us were more stressed, more tight.
“At the end, the one who dealt better wins the match. It was more about this rather than, okay, who plays better, who plays bigger. At the end, these important moments, this is where it counts.
“I think this year I had very close matches like this, and for me, it’s one of the most important wins, I would say, during the year. The most important is to win, doesn’t matter how. I’m super happy about it.”
And he is happy to be part of the generation which he believes is on the brink of destabilising the current established players.
“For sure I would say sooner or later I think it will happen. Of course Novak is, you know, right now he’s the most dangerous contender (for the title), but still, you know, I think at the end of the day, sooner or later, somebody will pull it off, you know.
“Obviously it can happen. Look, we’re in quarterfinals. You know, in the other part of the draw are other younger guys. Okay, Roger is still there from the older generation, but at the end of the day, all the other players, Berrettini is there, all the other players are our generation. Let’s see what happens.”