Coric Conquers Cincy, Wins First Masters 1000 Crown

Borna Coric (photo: ATP Tour video)

MASON, OHIO/WASHINGTON, August 22, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Less than a week ago, Borna Coric thought he was going to lose in the first round of the Western & Southern Open. After all, he was entered in the main draw of the ATP Masters 1000 tournament thanks to a protected ranking that gave him an opportunity to compete in the last major tune-up event before the US Open.

What the 152nd-ranked Coric did was simply make the most of his golden opportunity. He didn’t lose. Instead, Coric strung together an impressive week of six victories that was capped by his 7-6 (0), 6-2 triumph over World No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in Sunday evening’s title match. It represented just the first tour-level final since 2020 for Coric but it rewarded him with his first Masters 1000 crown. Meanwhile, Tsitsipas (46-16) was denied a third Masters 1000 title and 10th tour-level trophy.

Coric rallied from down 1-4 in the opening set. By the end of the one-hour and 56-minute final at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio, near Cincinnati, it was Coric who was in complete control. He won 84 percent of his first-serve points, and finished with 29 winners to just 14 unforced errors while outpointing his opponent 79-61. Tsitsipas countered with 25 winners but also committed 29 unforced errors. It was Coric’s second win in three career meetings against Tsitsipas.

“It was a very, very tough match,” Coric said during his on-court interview before the trophy ceremony. “At the beginning, I wasn’t playing very well and he was pushing me very hard. But I started to serve better and play better and I was fighting hard.

“Then, in the second set, I thought I played the best set of the whole year.”

Round by round, the 25-year-old Coric displayed a return to an earlier form that propelled him to World No. 12 before an injury to his right shoulder limited him to just nine matches last season and required surgery in May 2021. Now that he’s back on the ATP Tour, Coric put together a solid and memorable week highlighted by victories over six players – including Rafael Nadal, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Cameron Norrie – all whom have won ATP Tour titles this season.

Coric dropped just one set the entire week, against Nadal, and won his final nine sets en route to the title. It all happened after the Croatian made his tour return at Indian Wells in March and promptly lost eight of his 12 tour-level matches before this week, including a straight-set first-round exit the week before in Montreal. In June, Coric dropped down to the ATP Challenger Tour to rebuild his game and boost his confidence and promptly won a clay title at Montechiaruglo in Parma, Italy.

The Zagreb native got everyone’s attention early in the week when he stunned the World No. 3 Nadal, 7-6 (9), 4-6, 6-3, in the second round. Against Norrie in their Saturday evening semifinal, after falling behind 3-1 early in the opening set, Coric won five straight games to win the set and never looked back.

“I was really working very hard in the last six months,” Coric said after beating Norrie. He arrived at the Western & Southern Open ranked 152nd and used a protected ranking to gain direct entry. Now, he’s the lowest-ranked champion in the tournament’s long history.

“I think once you are in the Top 20 or Top 30, you can get a little bit sloppy and maybe get away with him,” Coric added. “But once you fall down to No. 200 – I don’t know where I was, but I knew I neeed to work probably three times harder than I used to work, and that’s what I did. For the last six months, I was really focused. I kept my head down even when I was losing.”

Coric, who improved to 10-8 on tour this season, has now won three tour-level titles on all three surfaces – hard court, clay and grass. Previously, he won on clay in Marrakech in 2017 and on grass in Halle in 2018. Thanks to his dream week at the Western & Southern Open, Coric will move up 123 places to No. 29 in the new Pepperstone ATP Rankings on Monday. It should be good enough for him to get seeded at the US Open, which begins August 29.

During the trophy presentation, Coric gave thanks to his family and to his team.Thank you to my parents, who are not here, my sister and my team. It has been very tough for us,” Coric said. “With my physio, if I didn’t have him I wouldn’t be on the court. … Then, of course, to my tennis coach, Mate [Delic]. We have been working very hard and now we are here.”

Ram and Salisbury win third Masters 1000 title as team

Top seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Great Britain’s Joe Salisbury won their second ATP Masters 1000 title of the season and third overall as a team with their 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) victory over No. 6 seeds Tim Puetz of Germany and Michael Venus of New Zealand Sunday afternoon. The title match, played on the Grandstand court, lasted one hour and 38 minutes.

“It gives us huge confidence to get the win this week,” Salisbury said, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “First and foremost, it’s a huge tournament, our third Masters 1000 title together and Raj’s home tournament. So, it’s really special to win here.

“We had a while off from playing together after Wimbledon and lost first round last week. So, it’s great to get the win this week and feeling good going into the US Open.”

Ram and Salisbury combined to win 82 percent of their first-serve points and saved the only two break points their faced, which came at the beginning of the final. Total points were even at 71.

Ram added: “Sometimes, it just comes down to good serves at the right time. I felt like we did that great today, because they came out probably returning better than we did. We were able to stave off those break points, keep fighting and having a good attitude. I think that’s what got us over the line.”

The title victory boosted Ram and Salisbury into third place in the Pepperstone ATP Live Doubles Team Rankings. They are seeking to qualify for the end-of-the-season Nitto ATP Finals for the fourth straight year.

By the numbers

Borna Coric became the first player since Sweden’s Mikael Pernfors in 1993 to win a Masters 1000 title and an ATP Challenger Tour title in the same season. According to the ATP, it’s happened three times since the ATP Masters 1000 debuted as a series in 1990. The other to accomplish the feat was Thomas Muster in 1992.

“Quotable …”

“I was just believing that I can win the next match. That’s what I did for [six] days in a row.”

Borna Coric of Croatia, after winning his first ATP Masters 1000 title Sunday.