As a teenager, Borna Coric showed himself to be someone the tennis world should keep an eye on. Three years ago, at the age of 17, he caught the attention of fans and professionals when he upset Jerzy Janowicz in Davis Cup play, and followed that up with another upset, this time of No. 29 seed Lukas Rosol in the first round of the US Open. Those were just the first hints. The world took notice when, not even two months later, he upset Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals of Basel.
Now, beating Nadal is something that keeps people’s eye on you, no matter what the surface or time of year. Coric fell in his next match to David Goffin, but he had announced himself to the world. He was a future star and someone to be reckoned with. After all, what 17-year-old beats one of the sport’s all-time best?
Coric followed this up with a meteoric rise up the rankings. He entered the Top 100 before the end of 2014, and was soon heading towards the Top 50. In the process, again at an ATP 500 in the quarterfinals (in Dubai during February 2015), he defeated another World No. 3–this time it was Andy Murray. Now 18, Coric had already taken out two of the “Big Four.” His ranking rose as high as No. 33 that May.
Then, as quickly as everything came to Coric, it stopped. He plateaued around the Top 40 and has been moving in the 50s-60s ever since. The talent is still there, that is undeniable. he tacked on another win over Nadal in Cincinnati in 2016, and beat Murray in Madrid this year. Coric can win big matches and beat great players. He’s just been relegated to a “possible future star” status due to his inconsistency. And, with the rise of other players like Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem into the Top 10, Coric almost became forgotten.
That was a mistake, as Coric showed us all at the US Open Wednesday night. Coric is now 20 years old, and he still might be struggling with consistency. But he is ready to compete on the biggest of stages and with the best of competitors.
Facing No. 4 seed and close friend Alexander Zverev in the second round, Coric showed no fear whatsoever in competing with his friend from the baseline. Coric’s power was evident in his previous wins over Murray and Nadal, and it was evident again here. The young Croat played tremendous tactical tennis, with great success at net, in addition to being able to outplay his opponent from the baseline. He also never showed any nerves, winning two sets in tiebreaks.
I will not pretend to be able to guess what the future holds for Coric. He has never yet reached the second week of a Slam, though there is now a decent chance of it happening this tournament. His third-round opponent, Kevin Anderson, currently owns a 2-0 head-to-head record over him. Coric still has only won one tour-level title, an ATP 250 in Morocco that did not have the strongest of fields. If Coric is going to become the great player that he clearly has the talent to be, he is going to have to learn how to string big wins together.
That being said, Coric once again put the tennis world on notice. Underestimate him at your own risk. He has not yet shown what it takes to be a champion, but he has absolutely shown that he can beat anyone–even the very best in the world–on any given day.
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