It might have been debatable before Friday but not anymore. The most successful athletic family in the world is the Kordas. No doubt. It’s a walk-off.
Sure, the Mannings have Archie, Peyton and Eli and, yes, the Watts have J.J., T.J. and Derek, all active in the NFL. There are plenty of father/son stories – Ken Griffey, Sr. and Jr. (baseball), Calvin and Grant Hill (basketball) Ken Norton, Sr (heavyweight champion boxer) and Ken Norton, Jr. (first NFL player in history to win three straight Super Bowls), and the Andrettis, Pettys and Unsers in racing. But no family has what the Kordas have – a father, mother, two sisters and a brother who have all been at or near the top echelons of their respective sport.
On Friday, Nelly (22) and Jessica (27) teed off in the Shoprite Classic at the same time, 1:06, on separate tees. Both started the day at 3-under. Nelly shot 70 and entered the weekend in a six-way tie for 30th while Jessica cruised around at even par to be tied for 36th. By their standards, it was ho-hum, okay at best. But you couldn’t wipe the smiles off either sister’s face, not because of how they played but because of what happened before the round.
With the time difference between Paris and New Jersey, the family got to watch as the youngest Korda, Sebastian (age 20 and known as Sebi), defeated Pedro Martinez in straight sets to advance to the fourth round of the tennis championship at Roland Garros. In doing so, Sebi became the first player born in the 2000s to advance to the fourth round of any grand slam event. He also became the breakout story of the week.
“It's been awesome,” Jessica said of watching Sebi in France. “(Nelly and I) changed our practice round time on Wednesday so we could play later because he was playing at 5:00 in the morning here. So, we've been adjusting to (his playing schedule) and then catching a couple of naps here and there in the afternoon. But we're so excited and just proud to watch him and support him. He's there almost by himself. He's got his hitting partner there with him and everybody else is here kind of cheering him on (from afar) But we've been there every step of the way.”
That sort of bond is not unique among siblings. But the Kordas are unique in the level of commitment they have to each other.
But first things first. The family. Petr Korda, born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, was a left-handed tennis star who made it to the finals of the French Open at Roland Garros in 1990 where he lost to Jim Courier. Six years later, Petr won the Australian Open and reached No. 2 in the world rankings.
His lovely wife, Regina Rajchrtová, was also a tennis star, ranked 26th in the world, who represented Czechoslovakia at the Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988.
The couple retired from the courts, became U.S. citizens, and settled in Bradenton, Florida where their daughters took a shining to Petr’s retirement pastime: golf. Now, Nelly is ranked No. 2 in the world with three LPGA Tour wins, one LET victory and a win on the Symetra Tour. Jessica, who struggled with wrist and hand injuries for a solid year, is No. 22 in the Rolex Rankings with five LPGA Tour wins.
Sebi followed in his parents’ footsteps. In January of 2018, while Jessica, Nelly and Regina were on Paradise Island for the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic, Sebi won the Australian Open Junior title and became the top-ranked junior tennis player in the world. At 6’6”, he is the tallest Korda and, after a couple of years in the gym, the strongest. Still, he arrived in Paris this week ranked 213th in the world. Sebi went through qualifying to get into the field at Roland Garros and then beat Italy’s Andreas Seppi in the first round then No. 22 John Isner in the second.
Friday’s straight-set victory over Martinez sets up a round-of-16 match against Rafael Nadal, a 12-time winner of the French Open at Roland Garros.
“I named my cat Rafa after him,” Sebi said after the win in Paris on Friday. “That explains how much I love him.”
No explanation is required for the love the Kordas have for each other. When Nelly won her first LPGA Tour title, the 2018 Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship, Jessica watched from home and burst into tears when the final putt fell. Nelly had reciprocated the emotion earlier that year when Jess won in Thailand. The sisters were an unstoppable force in the 2019 Solheim Cup, going undefeated as partners at Gleneagles.
This week, both have been hugging and cheering every point of Sebi’s ride at Roland Garros.
“He finished his match (on Friday) when we were driving over and my heart rate was definitely too elevated going to the golf course,” Nelly said. “It should not be that elevated. But it was really fun.
“It's super special. I mean, he’s put in a lot of hard work over the past couple months. He's playing his idol (Nadal) in next round. So, that's going to be really cool to watch.”