NEW YORK—In his Pharrell Williams-designed Adidas apparel, Alexander Zverev strikes a stylish pose. But it was the No. 4 seed’s overpowering game that had made him a fashionable choice to make a deep run into the second week of the US Open. That time will undoubtedly come, but on Wednesday it was Borna Coric, himself a highly-touted rising star, who propelled himself into the third round after a bruising four-set victory over Zverev.
The first set was played at a brisk pace, with little time taken between points and even shorter rallies. Neither player could make much of an impression on the other’s service games, and it took a mental lapse from Coric to create the only opening Zverev needed to walk through. Serving at 2-3, 15-30, Coric didn’t attempt a play on a floating return that dropped right in front of him on the baseline. After a challenge proved his mistake in judgment, he compounded the slip-up by double-faulting and handing Zverev the break. Two holds of serve later, Zverev had the first set, 6-3, in just 26 minutes.
In the second set Coric started giving himself a little more room behind the baseline, taking the air out of the ball with loops and slices, and stopped trying to continuously slug with Zverev. He also converted 75 percent of his first serves, which led to many easy holds. In fact, Zverev only won eight of 32 return points in the set, a facet of his game that he struggled with for most of the match. But ultimately it was his serve that let him down. At 5-6, 40-0, Zverev lost four straight points, creating a set point for Coric. A spirited rally ended with Zverev threading the needle with a gorgeous running backhand passing shot up the line from several feet behind the baseline. Nonetheless, Coric steadied himself and accepted a backhand error from Zverev, and then forced another to win the set, 7-5.
Recognizing its significance, both players hunkered down for the third set. The ground-stroke exchanges became lengthier and several games were extended for multiple deuces. The players got so much more methodical in their approaches—and perhaps a little gassed—that Coric even received a time violation warning. Serving at 4-4, Coric managed to stave off numerous break chances from Zverev and pulled the same rabbit out of his hat at 5-5. Throughout the third set, Zverev was 0-for-7 on break chances. All those missed opportunities seemed to take something out of Zverev for the ensuing tiebreaker, as his serve abandoned him and he was audibly straining when leaning into his shots. All credit to Coric, who played a smart, dogged breaker—taking it 7-1—and gutted out a set he perhaps had no business winning.