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Rising star: Borna Coric - mini-Novak, maxi talent

By Guillaume Willecoq   on   Wednesday 09 March 2016
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Because they are young and brimming with talent, and because their styles of play, careers or simply their natural affinities point to success on clay in general and at Roland-Garros in particular, Rolandgarros.com has picked out 20 rising stars – 10 young women and 10 young men – to keep a close eye on throughout the year. We begin with Borna Coric, hero of the first round of the Davis Cup which saw Croatia eliminate last year’s finalists Belgium on clay in Liege. Find out more about this ambitious young man who is following in the footsteps of Novak Djokovic.

Why Coric?

Because Novak Djokovic himself says that: "he reminds me of myself at the same age". Borna Coric knows where he wants to go, and is not the kind of person to get distracted along the way. He is mature beyond his 19 years, has a serious work ethic and well-defined career objectives. And while those alone cannot guarantee success, they are certainly essential ingredients for any aspiring champion. Coric – pronounced with a "ch" at beginning and end – makes no bones about the fact that he wants to be No.1 in the world. "Playing tennis to break into the top-20 has never been a goal", he explains. "It is meaningless to play a sport, if it's not for becoming the No 1 world player." Coric believes in his abilities – so much so that, back in January 2015, he proclaimed that: "when I'm at my best I am more like Djokovic game wise, when I'm not, I'm more like Murray."

Some might describe this as a tad arrogant, but this does at least encapsulate Coric’s style of play. He is compact, solid on both wings and is carrying on the tradition of rock-steady baseliners who have come to the fore in recent years. He does not have a go-to shot – indeed, he often finishes matches with less in the winners column than his opponent – but has no real weakness either, be it technical, tactical or physical. His service, forehand, backhand (if you were really pushed to name his main weapon, then like Djokovic and Murray it would be the backhand), movement, tactical nous and ability to turn defence into counter-attack in the blink of an eye make Coric the ideal modern tennis pro.

Coric has the mental skills as well as the arm strength (and the legs – after all, he outlasted Tommy Robredo in a five-setter at Roland-Garros!) to make him one of the stand-out players on the circuit for years to come, and a measuring stick for others. The question is, how far will he go? Will he be as good as David Ferrer? Murray? Djokovic? He holds his fate in his own hands…

Background

Like any self-respecting Croat, Coric is a fan of Goran Ivanisevic, not that his game or indeed character is in any way similar to his ebullient predecessor. Not for him the attacking style of the ace king of the 1990s – Coric prefers to model his game on Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. His favourite sport however is boxing, and his idol is Mike Tyson, even though he was too young to have lived through "Iron Mike’s" heyday in the ring, having been born on 14 November 1996. Borna was five when he first tried his hand at tennis having watched his father play. The latter was a lawyer, but left the bar to concentrate on his son’s burgeoning career.

At 14, Coric left Zagreb where he was born in an attempt to further his development, but rather than going down the tried and tested Spanish or Florida academy route, he chose the far smaller and less illustrious "Junior tennis coaching foundation" in London alongside Donna Vekic, where the two Croats soon became the stand-out players. He went out on his own on the pro circuit from the end of 2014, first under the auspices of another Croat, Zeljko Krajan (who coached Dinara Safina to No.1 in the world), and now with Briton Miles Maclagan (who used to work with Andy Murray), as well as having Swede Thomas Johansson on the books as a consultant.

Career to date

Coric has been ticking off the milestones more quickly than most in his career thus far. He won his first Tennis Europe international title in 2007 at the age of 10, even though the tournament was open to players up to 12 years old. The following year, he repeated the feat at an under-14s event in Moscow, just before his 12th birthday. He made the final of the "Petits As" tournament at Tarbes in France in 2009, and also the Orange Bowl in 2010, before moving onto the Grand Slams in 2012 at the age of 15 and making his debut among the pros in 2013. He soon showed his potential at that level, winning a $10,000 Futures event on clay in the UK in just his third tournament, a few weeks on from making the semi-finals of the French Open boys’ singles (photo). At the end of the season, which saw him win four more Futures titles, he won the junior US Open after defeating a list of players set to become household names in the near future, namely Tommy Paul, Quentin Halys, Alexander Zverev and Thanasi Kokkinakis. The Flushing Meadows title also saw him become junior world No.1.

His steady rise, almost under the radar, continued in 2014 at Challenger level where he won one title and made the semis in two others, before he exploded onto the scene at the end of the year. In Basle, a few days before his 18th birthday, he made it through to the final four with wins over Ernests Gulbis, Andrey Golubev and even Nadal (6-2, 7-6)! 2015 saw him ready to take the next step, and indeed he made the semis in Dubai – with a win over Murray, no less – and Nice, as well as reaching the third round of Roland-Garros. In the Davis Cup, he was Croatia’s hero in the World Group play-offs where they managed to stay up by beating Brazil away on the Florianopolis clay. Coric took both points in the singles, and then won the deciding fifth rubber in early 2016 against Belgium.

What can we expect from him this year?

He has already been as high as No.33 in the world and made his first ATP final in Chennai in January, so he should certainly be capable of lifting his first trophy in 2016 – and where better than Umag, the only tournament held in his home country? And when it comes to the Grand Slams, anyone who saw him take down Robredo in that five-set, four-hour epic at Roland-Garros last year will agree that the second week of the majors should now be within his grasp.

Follow him on Twitter : borna_coric

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