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By Chris Oddo | Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Borna Coric, 2015 Cincinnati

Borna Coric and Alexander Zverev gave Cincinnati fans a glimpse into tennis's future on Tuesday.

Photo Source: Christopher Levy.

The last time Borna Coric and Alexander Zverev met they were juniors trading strokes in the shadows of Arthur Ashe Stadium, playing for a spot in the US Open Boys’ Singles final. Today they are both legitimate threats to wreak havoc on a Masters 1000 draw at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati.

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A lot can happen in two years. Coric and Zverev have travelled from the land of potential hopes and dreams to the kinetic, grinding reality of life on the ATP Tour and each has made the transition look startlingly smooth. So smooth that the two rising stars individually inspire talk of bright futures and, when pitted against one another, they spark conversation about a potential rivalry for the ages.

Their first Tour-level meeting on Tuesday did nothing to disappoint. Beneath the baking-hot Cincinnati sun, Coric and Zverev traded blows, each intent upon enforcing their own unique style on the other. There’s a noticeable contrast between the two players’ styles, but also heaps of similarities.

Zverev, a rangy, cat-like mover has menacing power. He can strike on a whim, and he likes to do just that. He’ll come to the net without having to be coerced, and when he gets there he’s surprisingly refined for an 18-year-old. And the kicker is his serve, which comes with hot sauce in the high 120’s and action to boot.

Coric, a chiseled sculpture of determination, likes to camp out a few meters behind the baseline and slowly torture his opponents with eggy topspin and side-to-side, multiple-stroke combinations that take the legs and lungs from them. Much like the player he’s compared to, Novak Djokovic, Coric can be a pain machine for his opponents. He has the power to pull the trigger but he enjoys the hand-to-hand combat more.

At their core, Coric and Zverev are different players, but what makes them similar is that they are both surprisingly diverse (particularly for their 18 years). Though not always looking to, each can do what the other does in a pinch, situationally. Zverev can patiently hammer topspin drives and defend surprisingly well; Coric can serve and volley and come in behind well-timed approaches.

During Coric’s wildly entertaining and impressive 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(5) victory over Zverev today, both 18-year-olds ran the gamut of tactical tennis. Both had periods of lights-out domination, and both showed a gritty resilience—a willingness to dig in and defend or summon a daring second serve—in muggy, oppressive heat.

The tennis was delightful, but perhaps even more noteworthy was the collective demeanor of the pair. Yes, Coric the man child was the steelier of the two and it was his earnest intensity that eventually allowed him to survive a deciding set in which he could do virtually nothing against Zverev’s serve, but the German was also remarkably efficient in the temperament department.

Coric showed his maturity by staying in the third set, saving both break points he faced and not getting discouraged by the fact that Zverev was simply too dialed in on his serve for him to get his break game out of first gear.

Eventually, even after failing on a match point at 5-6, Coric rallied from 3-0 down in the tiebreaker to grab the advantage and steal the tilt on his second match point.

The sway of the set said Coric had no business winning it and yet here the Croatian is in the second round of the Cincinnati Masters, readying to play Stan Wawrinka. The victory is a testament to his grit as well as his game.

For the second time in two meetings (one junior and one Masters 1000), Coric took a third set from Zverev. But two years ago the German was handed a bagel in New York in the U.S. Open Boys’ semis. Today Zverev matched Coric stroke for stroke and wit for wit. On a day where Coric notched the huge win, his 20th of the season, Zverev was left to ponder what might have been. But what just might be when it comes to Zverev is a more intriguing subject. With an explosive game and supreme touch and athleticism, he could present nightmares for the tour in the decade to come.

As for Coric, he’s mature beyond his years. Of all the young guns on the ATP Tour (Zverev and Coric aren’t the only ones by any means), he’s the one with the most professional approach. When he brushes his teeth he probably stretches out the ligaments in his wrists so his backhand can be more supple.

The long and the short of it is that both Zverev and Coric impressed today. They shared a big stage at a big event and they battled honorably. Someone had to win, someone had to lose, but damn if they both don’t look like big-time winners in the future.


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