Chennai Open 2016: A teen finds self in legend’s shadow

Borna Coric’s antics brings back memories of Ivanisevic whom he idolises and hopes to emulate on the big stage.

Written by Shahid Judge | Chennai | Updated: January 6, 2016 10:47:55 am
Ranked 44 in the world, 19-year-old Borna Coric is the only teenager in the top 50. (Source: ACO2016) Ranked 44 in the world, 19-year-old Borna Coric is the only teenager in the top 50. (Source: ACO2016)

It was a delayed reaction, yet one that brought back memories of a different generation. Croatian teenager Borna Coric let out a mighty howl five seconds after the point had ended. He had just dropped serve against Marcel Granollers in their first round tie of the Chennai Open. The 19-year-old breathed deeply, bent down slightly, and emptied his lungs with a thunderous roar. The theatrical display drew immediate applause and laughter from the audience at the SDAT Tennis Stadium in Chennai, yet significantly, there were immediate recollection of another crowd-pleasing Croat — Goran Ivanisevic.

Coric doesn’t possess the powerful serve Ivanisevic boasted. But there is a familiar level of flair and strokeplay, all coupled with the love for the dramatic. It is the same feats that may have inspired the 2001 Wimbledon champion to step forward and play a role in the current world number 44’s — who is widely considered an upcoming tennis sensation — rise in the sport.

Back when Coric was just 15, he was without a coach and had hit a rough streak of performances. “I had been struggling a bit and didn’t play very good tennis in that season. But he was there for me. He started training with me in Zagreb. He didn’t coach me, but he kept helping me and texting me before and after matches,” recalls Coric.

Ivanisevic had recognised the potential in his compatriot very early. So much so that the former world number 2 has talked up chances of Coric, who is the only teenager in the top 50 ranks, of being a world beater. “Definitely he can win a Grand Slam. He’s one of the five, six guys that is definitely going to dominate men’s tennis in the next five or 10 years,” Ivanisevic told CNN’s Open Court show last year.

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Yet if the world hadn’t quite recognised his skill as Ivanisevic had seen, in 2014 Coric beat Rafael Nadal at the Swiss Indoors. Coincidentally, the win propelled him to the top 100’s for the first time, making him the youngest player to reach the ranks since Nadal himself achieved the feat in 2003. Furthermore, Coric announced himself to the tennis world, as a 17-year-old, by beating Nadal who had made his own claim to fame at 17 when he beat Roger Federer.

But Coric wasn’t quite done with the top 10 players of the world. Last year he beat Andy Murray in the quarterfinals of the Dubai ATP event. “Those were unbelievable experiences. It brought me confidence for my next matches and I felt assured that I can play with the best players,” he says. “But then I lost a couple of matches, which I should not have. So it showed me that not everything was perfect yet,” he adds.

The wins, however, did make it clear that Coric was indeed the next big thing in tennis. His age particularly certifies the promise. And it’s also his age that he uses to break the tension with light humour. When asked about the unforced errors he committed against Granollers, he simply replies, “I’m just 19,” later adding, “that’s my favourite excuse.”

In reality though, he claims that his age and inexperience is something that is simply a rite of passage for any tennis player. “It’s normal for mistakes to be made, not just in tennis, but in life as well. Every player as young as me made those mistakes. So I’m not getting very stressed about it because I know I’ll be much better in time,” he asserts.

Yet he does feel a certain degree of pressure when constantly being pegged as the next best thing. Having already beaten Nadal and Murray, he states that he is not yet quite ready to make the astronomical jump to tennis superstardom. “I can’t compare myself to them. Not yet. I’m dreaming about being number one in the world. That’s my goal. Maybe one day it’ll happen,” he says.

Ivanisevic certainly thinks it will. The 44-year-old, one of the sport’s greatest entertainers, had put Croatia on the tennis map in 2001. His expressive behaviour on court was audience’s delight. In Coric he has found another version of himself. The teenager spent most of his time between points constantly, and angrily, chatting with himself in his own dialect — bringing out cheer and applause in turn. This was all followed by the throaty roar that drowned out Granollers’ celebratory cries of ‘Vamos.’

A delayed reaction it may have been, it symbolised a memory, and the promise of another world beater.

Ram wins, Somdev out

Daniel Gimeno-Traver had steadily started slouching. Ramkumar Ramanathan had made the Spaniard sprint across the baseline throughout the match. When the young Indian reached match point, the world number 98 visibly ran out of steam. Ramanathan followed his usual plan of hustling his opponent from one flank to another, stretching and tiring him out. Match point was no different. Gimeno-Traver ran from his forehand side, to the backhand, and then watched as his weak return limped into the net.

150 world ranking places separated the two opponents on the night. Yet the 21-year-old Chennai boy’s display against the 30-year-old was one that didn’t care for any detail apart from what was on the scoreboard.

After Gimeno-Traver won his first two service games in the opening set, the local lad charged at each serve, returning with power and placement. The Spaniard would not win another game the entire match — Ramanathan won 11 games in a row to finish the first round tie 6-2, 6-0.

Ramanathan now becomes the only Indian to make his way to the second round of the singles event, where he will play second seed and world No. 12 Kevin Anderson.

Earlier in the day, Somdev Devvarman who had started the tournament as qualifier was beaten 3-6, 6-3, 3-6 by Russian teenager and wild card entry Andrey Rublev. Starting the tournament as a qualifier for the first time in 10 years, Devvarman wasn’t quite displeased with not getting the wild card entry. “I feel like it was an advantage. Once I qualified I felt that getting two matches under the belt was nice. It does a lot for the confidence and a lot for the game. I tested my fitness, tested my legs, my strokes. I didn’t feel like there were any holes,” he said after his match. “Today though I had my chances and didn’t capitalise on it. Didn’t execute well, and didn’t move my feet too well either. And in the third set it was just that one bad game that made broke my serve,” he added.

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