Rafael Nadal vs. Borna Coric: Score and Reaction from 2015 US Open

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2015

Rafael Nadal, of Spain, reacts after defeating Borna Coric, of Croatia, in the first round of the U.S. Open Tennis tournament Monday, Aug. 31, 2015, in New York. Nadal won 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Rafael Nadal got his 2015 U.S. Open off to a strong start Monday in a four-set victory over Borna Coric, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

The 14-time major champion dictated the pace for much of the match, which is almost always bad news for his opponent. Nadal constantly moved Coric around the court with both his first serve and groundstrokes.

According to the IBM SlamTracker, Nadal won 88 percent of his first serves and picked up 40 winners.

Even when Coric seemed to have Nadal on the ropes at times, the Spaniard would recover and take the point anyway, such as during this sequence in the eighth game of the first set, per the U.S. Open's Twitter account:

US Open Tennis @usopen

#Nadal strikes first & breaks #Coric to lead 5-3 -- this awesome point helped! @MBUSA http://t.co/CAPLY7DqNj

Coming into the match, the 18-year-old Croatian was cautiously optimistic about his chances. He knew playing Nadal would be an uphill battle but hoped the expectations might weigh too heavily on the favorite, per Nick McCarvel of USA Today:

I have absolutely nothing to lose. I can play very relaxed. I believe that I can win. At the same time, I'm aware that he's the big favorite. All the pressure is on him. I'm not going to just give the match to him.

Early on, it looked as though Coric might be able to hang with Nadal. The two players exchanged the first six games of the first set. Nadal stepped up to serve in a 3-3 tie, and then this happened, per ESPN Stats & Info:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Rafael Nadal takes the opening set vs Borna Coric. Nada won final 12 points of set after it was tied 3 games apiece Watch ESPN2

Nadal did a great job of getting Coric out wide when he was on serve. He avoided giving Coric a chance for a solid return with a serve near the center service line. Fourteen of Nadal's 18 first serves landed in the left or right corners out wide.

Almost immediately, Coric was playing defensive tennis as a result, which was how Nadal wanted it.

The second set played out the same way the second half of the first did. Coric logged a longer-distance run (3,513.37 feet) than Nadal (3,492.81 feet) as he struggled to cope with Nadal's power.

Then Coric turned the tables in the third set. While Nadal remained dominant on his first serve (13 of 16 points won), it was a different story on his second. He dropped eight of his 11 second-service points, and Coric used the opportunity to go on the offensive and move his opponent around.

With more time to measure his return on Nadal's second serve, Coric was able to get more depth on his shots, which allowed him to regain the advantage.

Belinda Bencic, the 12th-best women's player in the world, identified what might have been the origin of Nadal's issues:

Needing to dig deep to put Coric away for good, Nadal did just that in the fourth set. Devang Desai, who writes for Toronto FC's official site, was impressed with how well the left-hander was working from the baseline:

What also helped Nadal in the fourth set was needing to attempt only three second serves. That prevented Coric from rediscovering the groove he had in the previous frame.

Rafa was also more aggressive going to the net, to which Coric had no answer.

For Coric, he'll be disappointed to have lost, but there's no shame in falling to a player of Nadal's quality, especially when Rafa is playing like he did for the better part of the match. Patrick Strohecker of the York Dispatch sees a bright future for the young star:

Patrick Strohecker @P_Strohecker

I give it no more than two years before Borna Coric is a top-20 player on the men's tour. He has the tools

Nadal was tested in a big way Monday night and will advance to the second round, where he will face off with Diego Schwartzman. The two have played each other just once, with Nadal winning in straight sets back in 2013.

The two-time U.S. Open champion remains a major threat to pick up his third title, but there's no question he'll need to improve on his second serve in order to make a deep run. Against better opponents than Coric, Nadal could find himself in serious trouble.

Note: All match stats are courtesy of the IBM SlamTracker.