Q&A: Coach Dean Goldfine
on Sebastian Korda
Arthur Kapetanakis | February 23, 2021
Dean Goldfine has coached an array of world-class talents throughout his coaching career, including Americans Andy Roddick, Mary Joe Fernandez and Todd Martin. Now a USTA Player Development men's national coach, he is part of 20-year-old Sebastian Korda's coaching team, which is headed up by Korda's father, former world No. 2 and 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda.
Goldfine has been working with Korda since 2017, helping guide him to the 2018 Aussie Open boy's singles title and, more recently, a successful transition to the professional level. The young American is off to a hot start to 2021 after compiling a 9-1 record in January by reaching the Delray Beach Open ATP 250 final and winning an ATP Challenger title in Quimper, France. Dating back to the 2020 French Open, where he reached the fourth round as a qualifier, Korda put up a 22-3 record from October to January, including a 14-1 stretch that saw him win two Challenger titles.ADVERTISEMENT
While he could have elected to compete in Australian Open qualifying, Korda instead made the calculated decision to seek more match play by competing in Europe. The decision has paid off, as he is now inside the ATP's Top 100 at No. 92, well inside the direct-entry cutoff for the main draw of future Grand Slams. The American made his Grand Slam main-draw debut at the 2020 US Open as a wild card.
After Korda was named Team USA Player of the Month (alongside Sofia Kenin) for January 2021, USTA.com caught up with Goldfine to learn more about the Bradenton, Florida, native and his big future in the game.
Q: We're seeing Sebastian in the spotlight now with some great results, most recently his final run in Delray and the title in Quimper. But behind the scenes, can you take me through his progression in the past year?
Goldfine: He really took advantage of the time that everything was shut down last year. For that six months, he worked very hard in Bradenton. He got a bunch matches in on clay, which is great, because on clay you really have to work on constructing points. That helped him a lot.
He worked on his fitness as well, got a lot stronger, quicker.
Q. Coming out of the pandemic suspension, he qualified for the Western & Southern Open, getting a big win against Gilles Simon to make the main draw. And then he had the tight four-setter against Denis Shapovalov at the US Open in his Grand Slam debut. How important was that period for his development?
That was big for him, getting his first Top 100 win [vs. Simon]. What was also great is that we had some really good practices during those two weeks in New York. He practiced with some of the other top guys and he was holding his own with them and really got to where he now believed that he could play at the top level.
From there, he went over to Europe and the French, and we know what happened there—he qualified an reached the fourth round, and just took off from there.
That period really helped him a lot—not only being successful in his matches, but playing well in practice and hanging in with some of the top players. It really helped him from a mental standpoint, feeling that he belonged.
Q: Sebastian seems to have incredible self-belief on the court, and an innate ability to rise to the challenge in matches. How much do you see that in him?
Goldfine: For sure. He’s definitely matured a lot and now there’s a certain sense of calmness to him out on the court. When you’re winning a lot of matches, that really helps you to get to that point.
There’s no substitute for winning matches. An example of that is the first round of his last tournament in Quimper. He didn’t play great, was down, 5-1, in the third-set breaker, and came back to win. To me, that’s just a product of believing and continuing to compete, which he does a great job of.
He’s a gamer; he’s going to do his best to figure it out even if he’s not playing his best tennis. That’s the sign of champion, being able to win when you’re not at your best.
Q: What about him as a person or his game gives you confidence that he will continue to rise in the rankings after breaking into the Top 100?
Goldfine: In regards to his game, first of all, his body. He’s 6-foot-5, and he moves better than most 6-5 guys. So that’s a big part of it.
The ball coming off his racquet, it’s easy power for him; very easy power. And he has great hands, good touch. His hand-eye coordination is off the charts. A combination of those things in regards to his game, that gives him a chance.
This is what he wants. He works incredibly hard and is incredibly focused on what he wants to do. He’s wanted to be a professional tennis player since he was young, when he went to the US Open with his dad.
Coming from that family, with two parents that were high-performance athletes that competed at an incredibly high level... Between Petr and Regina—and let’s not forget about Regina—they have been able to pass on what they experienced onto their kids. They clearly have a formula that’s working.
I don’t know [sisters and LPGA golf pros] Jessica and Nelly that well, but with Sebi, they’re very respectful, very appreciative, very disciplined. And those are things that will help on this journey.
Q: How does your coaching style mesh with Sebastian? He seems like the perfect player to coach. What is your coaching philosophy, and what do you typically key on?
Goldfine: I’m pretty laid back; I’m not a yeller, not a screamer. I like for players to learn and the way you learn is to make mistakes. So I give him his space. We talk about things a lot, instead of me just telling him what he should be doing.
He’s pretty laid back too in his approach and his personality. Obviously he’s not laid back in that he’s driven and wants to succeed, but in terms of his approach he likes things pretty calm. We mesh that way.
My philosophy is that this is a journey. Not everything is going to be perfect along the way. You make mistakes, you’re going to lose matches but the most important thing is that you learn from it. There’s not one thing, one tournament that’s going to make or break your career, and he’s really grasped that. Petr is one that stresses that as well, it’s not just me.
Because he has some different voices, Petr being the main voice, we’re all on the same page. This is not a quick-fix approach. Everybody has their own path; some people do it quickly, others take longer. But it’s about the process and going about things the right way. Sebi’s really taken that to heart, and now we’re starting to see the results from it.
Q: You’ve worked in the past with Todd Martin, Andy Roddick and others. After working with so many great players, what do you take from that into your career now as a coach, and into your work with Sebastian?
Goldfine: As a coach, it was invaluable for me to be able to work with not only top players, but good people, like Todd and Andy. One of the big things I learned is just that everybody is different. You have your coaching philosophy, but I’m not going to approach Todd the same way I approach Andy and Sebi as well.
In regards to Sebi, I actually see a fair amount of similarities between Sebi and Todd. Both big guys. Sebi moves a little better than Todd did. Great backhands… good, solid serves; not overpowering, but can place them well. Also good hands; Todd had great hands as well.
And both pretty high tennis IQs, understanding the game and understanding what they need to do.
I definitely see some similarities between those two.