First Ball In, 7/24: The Borna Ascendancy

Thursday, July 24, 2014 /by
Borna Coric is the latest teenager to grab the headlines this summer. (AP Photo)
Borna Coric is the latest teenager to grab the headlines this summer. (AP Photo)

Another week, another teenager makes his mark on the ATP tour. The trend started with 19-year-old Nick Kyrgios’s lights-out run to the Wimbledon quarterfinals; continued last week with 17-year-old Alexander Zverev’s march to the semis in Hamburg; and has now moved to Umag, where today Croatia’s Borna Coric, also 17, won his second match, in straight sets over Horacio Zeballos.

How does Coric compare to Kyrgios and Zverev? To start, he’s the shortest of the three (so far); Kyrgios is 6’5”, Zverev is 6’4”, Coric is 6’1”. The fact that this can make the latter appear to be on the small side is another indication of how much taller the men’s game has become in the last 10 years—Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are both listed as 6’1”—and how much taller it may be about to become.

It also makes Coric appear to be the scrappiest of the youth brigade. He has a tendency to fly into brief, demonstrative rages, before pulling himself back together again—not the worst body language for a kid his age. More important is what his attitude does for his game. Where Kyrgios is loose and athletic, and Zverev is wiry and polished, Coric is persistent and resourceful. 

Winning the first set over Zeballos today was all about finding a way. At 2-3, Coric he hit an ace to save a break point, and he used his serve to fight back from an early deficit to win a tiebreaker. Afterward, Coric, whose biggest win was a five-set upset of Jerzy Janowicz in Davis Cup earlier this year, said he didn’t play as well as he had in his last match. But he didn’t care, winning anyway he could was what mattered. I like that. 

LIke Zverev last week, Coric will enter the Top 200 on Monday. If you’re looking for good omens, Umag is where Rafael Nadal reached his first ATP semifinal, at 17, in 2003.

*****

Viktor, Victorious

That’s Viktor Troicki, who also won his second match of the week, over Andrey Golubev today in Gstaad. Troicki, after Umag awarded its wild cards to its own homegrown players, was given one in Gstaad, and he has used it well so far. That fact might annoy a few of his fellow players, but to me Troicki, who served a one-year suspension for refusing to take a blood test last spring, has done his time and shouldn’t become persona non grata on tour. He told TENNIS.com this weekend that the ITF tried to destroy him, though I think in his case the time nearly did fit the crime—he got 12 months; I thought nine was the right number. 

But even if Troicki’s bitterness isn’t justified, it may prove useful. He says he’s going to prove that he wasn’t destroyed by the suspension. So far this year, Marin Cilic and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova have come back stronger and more motivated after doping-related suspensions. It won’t be a surprise if Troicki does as well.

*****

Sorie, Lacking

Sorana Cirstea, top seed in Baku, lost 6-1, 6-1 to Stefanie Voegele on Thursday. That should be surprising, but what's more surprising is that Cirstea was the top seed in the first place. Since reaching the final in Toronto last August, she's 10-19, yet she's still ranked 29th.

*****

OOP Analysis

See Friday’s Order of Play for Umag here, Gstaad here, and Baku here.

Juan Monaco vs. Thomaz Bellucci: A Brazil vs. Argentina battle that makes it feel like 2011 all over again. I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing.

Jan-Lennard Struff vs. Fernando Verdasco: A war of cool names that was held over from Thursday. Does Struff have the stuff? The winner will play later in the day, against Troicki.

Fabio Fognini vs. Borna Coric: We may find out a little about Coric’s powers of concentration in this one.

Tommy Robredo vs. Pablo Carreño Busta: One Spanish generation will try to hold off the next.

*****

For Further Reading

That was fast: A day after Sloane Stephens announced that she had split with Paul Annacone, we learned that she’s going to be working with Thomas Hogstedt. The veteran coach is most famous for standing over Maria Sharapova on changeovers and telling her that all of her opponents would choke—as well as, of course, helping Sharapova back to the top of the game with his hard-nosed, well-prepared ways. If Sloane has the patience for his discipline, this would seem to be a better fit for where she is in her career than Annacone, a polisher rather than a builder of champions, was.

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