Coric Always Believed In Himself, Now He’s Back In The Top 30

Borna Coric (photo: ATP Tour video)

WASHINGTON, August 24, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Shortly after Borna Coric won his first ATP Masters 1000 singles title, after defeating World No. 5 and fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, 7-6 (0), 6-2, to win the Western & Southern Open Sunday evening in Mason, Ohio, near Cincinnati, he admitted during his final press conference that the thrill of the triumph had left him speechless.

“I have no words, to be honest,” said Cilic, who rose in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings from 152nd to No. 29 after stringing together six impressive victories – all against opponents who had won ATP Tour titles this season. From the second round through the final, the Zagreb, Croatia native beat five straight seeded opponents – and became the lowest-ranked player in history to win a Masters 1000 crown.

“It’s just an unbelievable feeling. Like I said many times, I’m just going to enjoy this. I thought I could play well. I was training hard, and I knew I could play good tennis. [However], that I could play this level tennis, I was just not aware.

“I’m just super happy, obviously.”

From 4-1 down in the opening set, Coric went to work and turned the title match around. By the conclusion of the one-hour and 56-minute final, played on Center Court at the Lindner Family Tennis Center before an appreciative crowd, the 25-year-old Coric had struck 29 winners, made just 14 unforced errors, won 84 percent of his first-serve points, and outpointed Tsitsipas 79-61.

“I think I just realized that I needed to be more aggressive,” Coric said, describing the turnaround that lifted him to his third career ATP Tour title. “I think I came into the match with the mindset of [Stefanos is] going to miss. You know, he’s [an] unbelievable player, and he’s not going to miss on my solid balls, you know.

“I didn’t serve very good at the beginning, as well. [At] 4-1, I just said to myself, ‘All right, I need to go more for the ball. Not necessarily for the winners, but just I needed to hit harder, I needed to hit deeper so he cannot attack me so easily.’”

During Coric’s run to the title, among his six victories was a second-round win over World No. 3 Rafael Nadal, 7-6 (9), 4-6, 6-3. It was the only match in which Coric dropped a set. Round by round, Coric displayed a return to an earlier form that lifted 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, he’s 10-8 and back in form – and it couldn’t have come at a better time with the start of the US Open less than a week away.

Just what exactly was going through Coric’s mind as he kept knocking out one seeded opponent after another?

“You know, I just didn’t think about it too much, especially during the tournament,” Coric said. “I’ve played on the tour for a long time already, and I know that in the tournament I cannot take much days off in my head, in terms of, you know, I’m going to enjoy this win now for two days and I’m going to be relaxed and everything is good, I’m happy.

“I cannot do it anymore. I can do it now, because for the next seven days I don’t have the tournament. But in the middle of the tournament, when I [beat] Rafa, obviously, I was supper happy. It was great.

“But again, I knew I needed to play against [an] unbelievable player the next day for less than, I think, 15 hours I was playing. So, I knew I needed to stay calm. I needed to do my recovery and to stay fresh, basically, because that’s the most important [thing]. And I think that’s what I did.”

By the end of his press conference, Coric was asked if winning his first Masters 1000 title was a surprise or did he come in believing he was capable of a championship run on the eve of the final major of the season.

“I believe always in myself, you know,” he said, smiling. “But again, to win the tournament when last week I was really playing poorly … I was playing great last week, but still my level was not there.

“I didn’t believe I’m going to win the [Western & Southern Open] tournament. I was not really focused on, I didn’t know – I think when I beat [Lorenzo] Musetti, I came to the locker room and I asked my coach, ‘Who do I play next?’

“I never look, you know, too much forward. Obviously, sometimes I know, because when I was in the semifinals, I know who I’m going to play in the final, because it’s not many matches. You just hear it.

“But in the first couple of rounds, I’m not really focused on the next round. I’m always focused on the round which I’m playing right now.

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

Now, Coric is off to the US Open where, thanks to his title run last week and his leap in the rankings, he will be among the 32 players who are seeded.