Borna Coric continued the ATP’s recent run of big-event upheaval with a stunning title run in CincinnatiAug 22, 2022
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Borna Coric continued the ATP’s recent run of big-event upheaval with a stunning title run in Cincinnati
The Croat “started the week with not much confidence, to be honest,” and finished it with his first Masters 1000 title and wins over five seeded players.
Published Aug 22, 2022
HIGHLIGHTS: Borna Coric's big win over Stefanos Tsitsipas in Cincinnati
It seemed, when 2022 began, that this season would begin the process of an orderly transition from one generation to the next at the top of the men’s game. The Big Three were going to play less, and thus dominate less. The Next Gen—roughly, Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Matteo Berrettini and Carlos Alcaraz—were gradually going to fill their shoes and take their spots at the business end of big tournaments.
Eight months later, as the year’s final Grand Slam approaches, the landscape looks a little different. The Big Three, or at least Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, have played less, but they’ve been just as dominant, having won all three majors so far. And instead of an orderly transition to the Next Gen, we’ve had a free-for-all. At Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Casper Ruud and Nick Kyrgios reached their first major finals. Since then, Montreal and Cincinnati have been claimed by two unseeded players, Pablo Carreño Busta and Borna Coric, neither of whom had won an ATP Masters 1000 title before. Meanwhile, Medvedev, Alcaraz, Tsitsipas and the rest of the Next Gen all fell by the wayside.
Coric, who capped the performance of his career with a 7-6 (0), 6-2 win over Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final on Sunday in Cincy, was as stunned as the rest of us.
“I started the week with not much confidence, to be honest,” he told Tennis Channel. “I just didn’t play very well in the practices.
“I was just going match by match.”
What a string of matches it was. Coric, for the moment ranked 152nd, recently returned to the tour after undergoing shoulder surgery, but he knocked off Nadal in the second round, No. 7 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in the quarterfinals, No. 5 seed Cam Norrie in the semifinals, and the fourth-seeded Tsitsipas for the title. He dropped just one set along the way, to Nadal. Not bad for a guy who had just four wins on the season.
According to Coric, the reason was relatively simple.
“This week I was mostly just serving unbelievable,” he said. “The best in my whole life. In the important points I was always serving big.”
As the serve went, so went the rest of Coric’s game.
“If I serve like that, I can relax more on the return and play much better tennis,” he said.
Coric obviously knows his own game, but he may be short-changing his backhand just a bit in that analysis. Against Tsitsipas, he hit 10 of his 29 winners from that side. With Tsitsipas protecting against the crosscourt to his weaker backhand, Coric had an open court up the line, and he took it.
The faster courts in Cincy seemed to inspire a more aggressive approach from this typically steady baseliner. By the second set, Tsitsipas, who was coming off a three-set win over top seed Medvedev the night before, had stopped trying to run down those Coric backhands.
“I can’t even count how many times I’ve lost in Masters 1000 finals,” a frustrated Tsitsipas said afterward.
He’s lost four times at that stage, to be exact, against two victories, both in Monte Carlo. Tsitsipas may have been tired on Sunday, but his recent predilection for hitting straight at his opponent at the net didn’t help him. Late in the first set, Tsitsipas whipped a forehand down the middle that barely missed Coric and landed in for a winner. Twice Coric looked for an apology from Tsitsipas, and twice he didn’t get it (as far as I could see). After that, Coric channeled his annoyance and closed out the set 7-0 in the tiebreaker.
Tsitsipas, Medvedev, Alcaraz, and Berrettini—as well as Nadal—will all go into the US Open without a top-level hard-court title this summer. With Djokovic and Zverev likely to be absent, the ATP free-for-all may continue in New York.
And now Coric will be a part of it. Maybe the time off will end up helping him. He’s still only 25, and he says his shoulder rehab, which included eating “protein five times a day,” may have beefed up his serve. As he showed this week, with that shot clicking, there’s no one he can’t beat.