Teen Phenom Borna Coric Has What it Takes To Be the ATP's Next Superstar

Jeremy Eckstein@https://twitter.com/#!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistJuly 22, 2016

PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 28:  Borna Coric of Croatia celebrates during the Men's Singles third round match against Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain on day seven of the 2016 French Open at Roland Garros on May 28, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Shortly after Croatian star Borna Coric had defeated American Jack Sock in the fifth and decisive rubber at the Davis Cup quarterfinal in Beaverton, Oregon, he arrived at the press conference wearing a T-shirt that read, “Shut Up And Run.”

It was fitting for the no-nonsense attack the 19-year-old delivered.

Coric held the baseline, ran down nearly every ball and powdered aggressive groundstrokes on both sides of the court. The bigger the moment, the more energy he delivered, pumping his fist and directing his eyes to the small, boisterous Croatian contingent in the west stands.

Later, Coric told the media that this is what he plays for.

"You know, I have to be honest, I like that kind of situation," he said. "I like it more than playing on the Court 27 somewhere, you know, somewhere far away from the crowd, the people.

"I just like big stage more, when it's more important. When I have more pressure, you know, when the expectations are big, I like those occasions. I think that's what we're training for. That's what I like. That's what I enjoy."

Indeed. Coric has now won two consecutive times when Croatia was faced with a fifth and deciding rubber, turning the trick four months earlier against 2015 runner-up Belgium.

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This is just the beginning of what could be a sensational career, and by all indications, it’s not going to be long before he makes more succinct statements on and off the tennis court.


Unafraid to Compete at the Highest Level

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 04:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia shakes hands at the net after his straight sets victory against Borna Coric of Croatia in their second round match during day five of the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament at the Caja Magica on May 04, 2
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

There’s nothing timid about the way Coric approaches his tennis.

He’s 6’1” with muscular legs and a thick chest. He concentrates with each practice ball while spotting his serve on the outer edge of the box or down the "T." Repetition fuels his appetite, and by match time, he’s eager to unleash his skills.

Coric is more than a grinder. He looks for his shots on each side of the court, especially relishing the angles and precision of his star-level backhand. Time and again against John Isner and Sock, he held the upper hand when he turned the rallies into ad-court exchanges. Isner escaped, but Sock was victimized.

“The big points I was going for it, you know,” Coric said. "As soon as I had a small chance, I was going for the shots. I wasn't waiting for him (Sock) to miss.”

He defeated Rafael Nadal at Switzerland as a 17-year-old late in 2014.

He crushed Andy Murray 6-1, 6-3 four months later in Dubai.

"I think my game is quite similar to (Novak) Djokovic's. I move well, I don't miss many balls, I'm a fighter and my backhand is my best shot,” Coric said in January 2015 in the Times of India.

The Djokovic comparisons could become common if Coric keeps building on his talent one match at a time. They both strike clean balls, use both sides of the court and display energy and resilience.

On the other hand, Djokovic’s serve and net game are more mature and he’s learned to be more patient with his attacking defense. Coric’s defense is also sound, but he needs to attack earlier and more often to keep his opponents on the run. He doesn’t possess the same level of keen returning and fleet-footed retrievingat least for now.

Until Sunday, Coric had been a bit up and down in 2016, sporting only a 16-18 record. The Sock win might be the most important of his career, at least in terms of winning for Croatia in a huge match.

“But it's very big win, especially with the occasion,” Coric added when asked to compare it to the wins against Nadal and Murray. “We were playing for the semifinal. It's a very big occasion. And why I rate it even more is because I wasn't feeling very confident coming into this match. I wasn't playing great on Friday.

“I had tough few weeks also before on the grass courts, which I expected more or less. But, still, you know...

“And to perform like this after tough few weeks, actually more than a few, it's unbelievable feeling. I think it can help me a lot for the future, yeah.”


Shunning Pressure

(From L to R) Croatia's davis cup team captain Zeljko Krajan and Croatian tennis players Marin Cilic, Borna Coric, Ivan Dodig and Franko Skugor attend the playing schedule draw of their Davis Cup first round World Group meeting against Croatia, on March 0

Coric was clinging to a two-sets-to-one lead, down 3-2 after losing the previous three games to Sock. The American crowd had reached its noisy peak, calling out its support for Sock with passionate clapping and cheering.

Worse, Coric had just gone down 15-30 after slapping a tight second serve into the net.

It felt like Sock was ready to square up the match and ride the momentum of his home crowd.

Coric reached back and delivered three well-placed serves that Sock could not muster into any kind of rally or advantage. The thunderous din of the crowd had been flattened with only a shrill Croatian horn sounding out from the crowd along with its supporters. Coric had effectively closed the door.

Afterward, Croatian captain Zeljko Krajan said, “He performed—I mean, if you compare it to Friday, it was another tennis. He's unbelievable player, and what he has in front of him, we can all just look forward and be happy for him.”

For his part, Coric has a mature understanding of what it means to succeed in his career. He’s shown a sense of discipline and maturity to work, traits that have all defined Djokovic, Murray, Nadal and Roger Federer.

He understands that it’s a career-long process to face pressure, to embrace it without being consumed, which he said on Friday following his loss to Isner.

"Regarding pressure, I mean, that's normal thing to have. I have it since I was 12 years old from the first time I played good in a bigger tournaments, you know.

"And I'm going to have it for the next 15 years. Honestly, I don't have problems with it. I'm just really enjoying playing tennis, and I don't bother so much with the pressure and with the expectations."

Coric was ranked as high as No. 33 last year, but he currently sits at No. 53 with a deep, competitive ATP World Tour fielding more youngsters with their eyes at the top.

For now, he’s looking up at young talents Nick Kyrgios, Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem. There’s a lot more work to do at tournaments like Washington D.C., where he competes this week. There are no easy outs.

Who knows how soon or long it will be until Coric is a top-10 regular, but it’s clear that he has the talent and tools to be a future superstar. He’s mentally tough, aware and determined to fight his way up the rankings.

Maybe someday Coric will have a series of T-shirts that document his legend. “Shut Up And Win Majors” may not be that far-fetched in a few years.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.


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