With both men looking for their first quarterfinal of the season at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, it’s an all-Croatian clash between top seed Marin Cilic and young gun Borna Coric in Rotterdam on Thursday.
Top seed Marin Cilic continues his ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament campaign as he takes on youthful compatriot Borna Coric for a place in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
Neither man has performed well so far in 2017, so there’s a lot on the line in this all-Croatian clash at the 500-level indoors Rotterdam event – both Cilic and Coric are looking for their first quarterfinal appearance of the season.
Coric’s victory over Karen Khachanov in the first round in Rotterdam, edging the Russian in a pair of tie breaks 7-6(6), 7-6(10), was in fact his first win not just of 2017, but for about six months. Still just 20 years old, Coric hit a career-high ranking of world no. 33 back in July 2015, thanks mainly to a surprise run to the semifinals of the 500-level Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships earlier in the year when, as a lucky loser, he beat Andy Murray to reach the final four (Coric had already scored a win over Rafael Nadal at the tail end of the previous season in Basel).
That’s the kind of talent that makes people – especially in the context of an ATP World Tour heavily dominated by ageing stars with no apparent replacements – take notice. Coric had already been named the ATP’s Star of Tomorrow as the youngest player in the top 100 in 2014, and in 2016 he impressed by reaching his first two ATP World Tour Finals – finishing runner-up to Stan Wawrinka at the Chennai Open in January and to Federico Delbonis in Marrakech in April. Coric went on to reach the third round of the French Open and a first Masters 1000 Series quarterfinal in Cincinnati, where he defeated Nick Kyrgios, Benoit Paire and Nadal (again), but a retirement to Cilic trailing 2-6 in the quarterfinals was an ominous sign of things to come. Coric retired again after seven games against Feliciano Lopez in the first round of the US Open due to knee issues, did not train for three weeks and although he took the court against Richard Gasquet during Croatia’s Davis Cup semifinal against France, he lost in straight sets. Coric announced afterwards that he would undergo knee surgery and although he tried hard to recover in time for the Davis Cup final against Argentina, he was unable to.
Returning to action at the beginning of 2017, the good news for Coric is that he hasn’t had to retire in any matches so far. The bad news is that he hadn’t won one until Rotterdam and has taken a hit in the rankings after his failure to defend his Chennai Open runner-up points, losing in the first round there to Hyeon Chung, in the first round of the Australian Open to Alexandr Dolgopolov and in the first round of Montpellier two weeks ago to Aljaz Bedene.
ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament 2017 live stream: ATP tennis live from Rotterdam
Having finally got a win in Rotterdam against Khachanov, Coric will be eager to keep it going as he takes on Cilic – but the older man has plenty of motivation himself as he struggles to get a foothold in this 2017 season.
Cilic, Rotterdam runner-up in 2014, finished last season at a career-high ranking of world no. 6 after winning Basel and a first Masters 1000 Series title in Cincinnati, finishing runner-up in Geneva and Marseille and qualifying for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals for the second time. The 2014 US Open champion was unable, however, to steer his country to victory in the Davis Cup final, beating Federico Delbonis in five sets but suffering defeat from two sets up in the crucial fourth rubber against Juan Martin del Potro. The truncated off-season afforded by participation in the Davis Cup final often leads to poor results at the start of the next tennis year and that might have been the case for Cilic, but for whatever reason, 2017 hasn’t gone well for him so far.
Coming into Rotterdam, Cilic was 1-3 with shock defeats to Jozef Kovalik in Chennai, Dan Evans at the Australian Open and Dustin Brown in Montpellier, and he did not have an easy first-round opponent in Benoit Paire, the unseeded Frenchman who has two semifinal appearances under his belt already in 2017. Cilic lost the first set 5-7, but for the first time in his history against Paire, the player who won the first set did not go on to triumph in the match as the world no. 7 came back to win 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.
‘It was definitely a tough match. I expected a tough one,’ Cilic said. ‘He’s an extremely talented player. With his style of play you never know what’s coming. It’s good for me that I’m winning these kinds of matches. Especially now that I’ve had a few losses this season.’
Cilic and Coric have met twice before, although their Cincinnati match last year doesn’t really count as Coric had to retire trailing 2-6 and was really in no shape to play. Their previous encounter, at the Shanghai Masters in 2015, was a straightforward 6-1, 6-2 victory, and it will be interesting to see what Coric can come up with – if anything – to make an impact on Cilic’s more powerful game. An indoor court should favour Cilic, with Coric preferring a slower surface, and the world no. 7 should maintain his unbeaten record against his younger compatriot.
Cilic vs Coric is scheduled on Centre Court in Rotterdam on Thursday at 12.30pm local/11.30am GMT