A little over three years ago, an 18-year-old Borna Coric made the tennis world sit up and take notice of his enormous potential when he sent Rafael Nadal crashing out of the quarter-finals of the Swiss Indoors in Basel.
His straight sets win in 2014 was not a one-off case of a random teenager coming from nowhere to cause a temporary stir in the established order of things on the unforgiving ATP Tour, in the process giving journalists an opportunity to wax eloquent about a new prodigy on the horizon.
Fast forward to 2016, and Coric was once again in the limelight at the Cincinnati Masters, coming face-to-face with Nadal in the round of 16. The result? Coric again wins 6-1, 6-3.
Of the four matches he has figured in against Nadal so far, Coric has won two. That itself is an honour worthy of much envy, and therefore when he beat second-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain in the first round of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open yesterday, it didn’t come as much of a surprise.
“It’s the first match of the year. It’s always maybe a little bit tricky, you know, but I can say from the beginning that I was playing very good,” said the 21-year-old Croatian after beating Carreno Busta 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (8) in a marathon encounter that lasted two hours and 41 minutes at the centre court of the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex on a busy day which saw 11 singles matches being played.
“The first set, I lost it, but also I can say that I was playing good. You know, it was two or three points. We decided the set. I just knew that I need to remain playing very good. And I need to put even more pressure. That’s what I was doing,” added Coric.
World No 10 Carreno Busta was the more experienced pro in the match, the 26-year-old having been on the ATP circuit for almost nine years since making his debut in 2009 and having won three titles so far.
But the unseeded Coric came up with the desired aggression when it was needed and took advantage of Carreno Busta’s nerves in the second and third sets to force a tie-breaker during which he came up with the big shots for a deserving victory.
After trading breaks, Carreno Busta had wrapped up the first set on his serve, but his game simply went haywire in the second.
Coric secured the first break in the sixth game with an excellent lob from the back of the court that just landed inside, much to the Spaniard’s frustration. A fine volley at the net helped Coric win the seventh game easily before he broke again in the next game to take the match into the third set.
Things were not too complicated in the beginning when Carreno Busta broke Coric in the very first game and then went on to hold a 5-4 lead with the Spaniard on serve.
Most players wouldn’t have let the opportunity slip to close out the match, but Carreno Busta simply imploded. He failed to put away a simple smash at the net, the shot strangely landing long, and then hit another one wide to hand Coric a break when he needed it most and help him level 5-5.
Carreno Busta, however, recovered quickly and immediately broke back to take a 6-5 lead, but two crucial shots into the net on his next service game and a vicious down the line effort from Coric took the match into the tie-breaker.
Coric was on the back foot most of the time, facing match points on 5/6, 6/7 and 7/8 but drew level each time to get back into the match. A few moments later, it was Coric who was one shot away from a win at 9-8 and he made good of his only match point to win the encounter.
In the end it was his superior front court play that clinched the issue as he won 27 of his 33 points at the net.
“In the third set, obviously it was luck as well. But I was always brave. I was running for the shots. I was going for the win. I was going on the net. And, yeah, I mean, that’s it.”
That was it also for third-seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic as he fell to Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (4). It was Struff’s fifth Top 20 win of his career and it came in two hours and eight minutes.
Berdych has not played since October due to a back injury, but it was the German who played the more courageous tennis in the end, converting on his second match point.
Sixth-seeded Serb Filip Krajinovic, whose surprising run to the final of the Paris Masters caused a stir, was also upset by German Peter Gojowczyk 6-4, 6-1 in 66 minutes, breaking him five times along the way.
Fifth-seeded Richard Gasquet, the only former champion playing the tournament, had an easy first round as he breezed past Victor Estrella Burgos of the Dominican Republic 6-0, 6-2.
Eighth seeded Feliciano Lopez survived a scare from fellow Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez to win 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (3) and set up a second-round meeting against qualifier Mirza Basic of Bosnia.
Singles (Round 1): Borna Coric (CRO) bt 2-Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP) 5-7, 6-2, 7-6(8); Jan-Lennard Struff (GER) bt 3-Tomas Berdych (CZE) 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (4); 8-Feliciano Lopez (ESP) bt Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (ESP) 6-4, 5-7, 7-6(3); (Q) Mirza Basic (BIH) bt Andreas Haider-Maurer (AUT) 6-4, 6-3; Aljaz Bedene (SLO) bt (WC) Malek Jaziri (TUN) 7-5, 6-1; (Q) Stefanos Tsitsipas bt Florian Mayer (GER) 4-6, 7-5, 6-4
Doubles (Round 1): 4-Ivan Dogig (CRO) & Fernando Verdasco (ESP) bt Florin Mergea (ROU) & Nenad Zimonjic (SRB) 6-1, 6-4.
Today’s Order of Play
CENTRE COURT (from 3:30pm)
* 7-Fernando Verdasco (ESP) vs Andrey Rublev (RUS)
* 1-Dominic Thiem (AUT) vs Aijaz Bedene (SLO)
* Jan-Lennard Struff (GER) vs Paolo Lorenzi (ITA) or WC-Gael Monfils (FRA)
* Q-Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) vs 5-Richard Gasquet (FRA)
* 8-Feliciano Lopez (ESP) vs Q-Mirza Basic (BIH)
* Matteo Berrettini (ITA) vs Peter Gojowczyk (GER)
* Q-Stefano Travaglia (ITA) vs Guido Pella (ARG) or 4-Alberto Ramos-Vinolas (ESP)
* WC-Tuna Altuna (TUR)/Elias Ymer (SWE) vs 2-Oliver Marach (AUT)/Mate Pavic (CRO)
* Nikoloz Basilashvili (GEO) vs Borna Coric (CRO)
Not before 5pm
* 3-Feliciano Lopez (ESP)/Rajeev Ram (USA) vs Nikoloz Basilashvili (GRO)/Andreas Haider-Maurer (AUT)
* 1-Jamie Murray (GBR)/Bruno Soares (BRA) vs Borna Coric (CRO)/Jan-Lennard Struff (GER)
COURT 3 (Not before 5pm)
* Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP)/Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (ESP) vs 4-Ivan Dodig (CRO)/Fernando Verdasco (ESP)
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