WASHINGTON -- Petr Korda is a wisp of a man. At 6 feet 3 and 160 pounds, he often looks overmatched on the tennis court.
But then Korda unleashes those devastating passing shots, that leave stronger opponents stranded in their footsteps.
Or, his humorous side breaks out and he startles them by juggling tennis balls soccer style on his knees and feet -- just to break the tension.
A year ago, Petr Korda was ranked No. 69 in the world of tennis. Today, he is No. 5 and the top seed here at the NationsBank Classic.
"I tell you very simply, if I am 150 in the world or 85 or 50 or five, I am going to be the same person," he said. "I do not want to change. I am a happy person."
A year ago, he came to Washington hoping to play well, but he couldn't imagine that he would wind up runner up to Andre Agassi in the final. It was the beginning of what John McEnroe pTC calls "the run every great tennis player has inside him." By the end of last season Korda was No. 9. After appearing in the final at the French Open, he was No. 5.
"I was working hard on my tennis last year, and when I came here, something happened," he said. "I start to play tennis on a very high level. It was a breakthrough and then so much happened in so short a time. Results started to come. It has been strange. Like a dream coming to me."
Yesterday, Korda was to have played doubles with Ivan Lendl, but the match was postponed when their opponents, Arne Thoms and Markus Zoecke, withdrew because of an injury to Zoecke (hip and back) during his singles match Monday. Instead, Korda and Lendl will play tonight at 7 against Henrik Holm and Gianluca Pozzi, who lost in qualifying, but will sub in as alternates.
Korda and No. 3 seed Lendl will both play singles today as well, beginning at noon with Korda's match against Jimmy Brown. Lendl will follow, facing Jared Palmer.
"I'm enjoying myself," Korda said. "And I have goals. But I don't want to get so worried about my tennis that I am not happy. I can quit tennis, you know. "My parents say 'ball' was the first word I ever said," Korda said. "I had all kinds of balls -- pingpong balls, tennis balls, soccer balls. You know, I am really very talented athlete. If not tennis, I could play basketball or soccer. No, really, I could."
Petr Korda is not a typical tennis player. Though he is ranked No. 5, he does not act like a star. He said no to playing for the Czechoslovakia Olympic team.
"I tell you, I am working hard to stay in top 10," Korda said. "Olympics would be nice, but I have a plan to make something of my career, and I did not want to take the break for Olympics."
Since Korda was a kid, he has known about the French Open and Wimbledon. But to be there in the final of one was overwhelming.
"It was like being in a dream," he said. "I don't know if I deserved to be there, but I was there."
In the French Open final, Korda was nervous.
"My left arm felt so heavy and my feet were so very lazy, they would not move," he said. "I had never been there before, and Jim [Courier] was in his fourth final Grand Slam. I didn't win, but I liked being there. . . .
"You know Andre [Agassi] gives me inspiration. Three times he lost Grand Slam finals before he won Wimbledon. Maybe that means I still have a time to come. Next time I will handle it better."