A new star is Borna
–Raised on Croatian clay and hardcourts, Borna Coric, age 21, had only won 2 matches on grass before coming to Halle, Germany last week.
It looks like he’s figured it out. He beat 9-time champion Roger Federer on a cold, damp day when Roger said he was playing his best tennis of the week.
(words and images copyright Christopher Johnson Globalite Media all rights reserved)
Coric served well, won long rallies with daring winners, and overcame a few flubs along the way.
He said he kept his composure and focussed on his own game rather than the legend across the net. It’s a formula that’s led Borna to victories over Roger, Rafa, Andy Murray as well as Sascha Zverev early in Halle.
Here are notes from his pressers the last 2 days at the Gerry Weber Open.
–You are probably pretty happy right now but share your feelings with us?
Yes, absolutely. It’s been unbelievably big week for me. All I can say is that I didn’t expect to come this far. You know, I was just hoping if I can get a match or two just to prepare for Wimbledon well. So, this is kind of a dream come true. Also beating Roger today, like I said on the court, just to share a court with him is really special for me because I have been looking up to him a lot and I remember the days, you know, when I was watching with my dad and my mum, and now I’m here playing him, beating him today. It really does mean a lot to me.
–Congratulations. What were your thoughts going into the match and what worked for you?
I just tried to maybe keep calm, not to get overexcited. I think that was the key. I was really serving well. I couldn’t put much returns in the court until the last two games of the third set that I broke him. Until then, I don’t think I had one break point. Really he served unbelievable and there were not many chances. But I knew again I’m serving well and, you know, I knew there are going to be a couple of points which are going to be deciding. And that’s what happened. I was really lucky in the tiebreak to be honest. He was serving on 6-4 and I made a very good return there, on 6-5 it was a really really lucky point. And I think that first set made a huge difference. If I lost the first set I think it would quite tough for me to win.
–He said that you found your game. Do you agree with said?
Well, yes, I’m still trying to figure out. I’m still speaking with my coaches a lot, basically working on some things. But of course, I’m playing much better. I’m trying to play in the right way, more aggressive than the last three years, trying to be more aggressive, staying closer to the line and also my serve improved a little as well, playing a little bit less tournaments just to come fresher to the tournaments. So, yes, I agree with him. Obviously it was a great week for me. But again now I need to rest and focus on Wimbledon.
–You said you were trying to be more aggressive and stay closer to the baseline but at the same time try to stay calm. How tough is that to find that balance? At 6 all I think you showed a huge fist pump?
Look, I mean, sometimes you need it, I need a big fist pump or something. That’s my character and sometimes I need it. But I did reduce that also a lot because especially with my style of play, okay, I’m still more aggressive but in the end I’m not making winners after winners. So, I need to play very long points and then to have all that fist pumps every second point is a little bit too much. I kind of use it when I really feel I need one, all the other time I’m just trying to stay calm, especially here on the grass where I know I’m not going to get many chances.
–Before this week, you had only won two games on grass I think. What was the key this week? Maybe winning the first round against Sascha?
Yes, that maybe. It’s one of the keys for sure. It gave me huge confidence. I was really playing well. Like I said in my last press conference as well I think coming here very early, I came on Wednesday, I already hit on Wednesday afternoon. It just gave me these couple of days extra to prepare, to learn how to move, to learn how to hit the balls. So, I think that’s the two keys. But yes also the first and the second match and against Seppi as well I think it was really an important match for me.
–You’ve beaten Murray a couple of times, Rafa I think, Roger today. What gives you the confidence when you’re playing some big name player?
Nothing gives me confidence. I’m just trying to go out there and to play my best tennis, not to think about them too much obviously because if you start to think, okay, I know he won this nine or ten times, if you start to think about that, I’m not going to win obviously. So, I just try to focus on myself and not to think about all the other stuff, all the statistics or anything else. I just try to focus on my game plan.
–Generally, how much did it maybe help you to have played Roger in a similar atmosphere in Indian Wells which is very pro-Roger, where the crowd was cheering for him. Did it maybe help you here?
Well I mean I’ve played big matches also before with a big crowd when they are against me, actually I don’t think they are against me but they are more for him. That is really normal and I understand it and of course it should be that way. So, look, I love the crowds, I love all the fans, I don’t mind if they are for me, they are not for me, really, it’s their choice. But I love it when there’s a big hype on the court, a good atmosphere like it was today, like it was also three months ago. It makes me want to play better. It makes me more excited and when I’m more excited I play better. So, I just really loved it today.
–You won today. Croatia I think has a good chance to win the World Cup. I think they have a really good team. Why do you think Croatians are doing so well in sports. It’s a small country. There is not that many of you.
Yes, I was following football every day and obviously we really played great. I need to congratulate them as well. I’m also really proud of that and I hope now we can go even further. But about your question. Look, I don’t know, I think we are very strange characters. We are big fighters from a small country. We don’t have the best conditions to train maybe and to go through. I think that’s one of the keys also just to make you tough when you are young not to have all the things which you want, you know.
–Your last match with Roger was very close. What do you think you have to change, especially on grass, to beat him tomorrow?
Look, I think in that match I played almost perfect. I think it was a great match. I was really playing good and, you know, at the end I was maybe a little bit unlucky and again he showed us why he is Number 1 in the world. He played very good in the most important points. So, I don’t think I need to change anything. I need to try to play on that level which is not going to be easy for sure because I think that’s my best match of the season by far which I played. So, I’m just going to try to play on the same level.
–How do you rate your chances for tomorrow’s final?
I mean not big for sure, obviously (laughs) but, look, I’m going to go out there. I’m going to enjoy it. Like I said I didn’t expect this at the beginning of the week. You know, today I was a little bit lucky. I’m sorry for Roberto. But I can rest a little bit now which is good. So like I said I don’t think my chances are really big but I’m going to go out there and I’m going to try to win. That’s for sure.
–It looked like you have gotten to a pretty good groove on the court in the course of the week. Does it change anything for you that today’s match was cut short? Does it throw you off the rhythm or might hurt you eventually that you didn’t get a match?
No, I think it only benefits me. I had four matches in a row. So, it’s fine. I had many points, I played many points. I know how to play on the court already. It’s not my first time here. So, I think it only benefits me that I can have the afternoon off. You know, just have a chill afternoon and just get ready for tomorrow.
–I know you grew up playing on clay in Zagreb. I know some people you played with.
Who? Who do you know?
–Pat Jarina. His father is Ismar.
Oh yes, I think I heard of him.
–It is so interesting that you’ve been able to make the transition to grass. How difficult is it for you to play on this surface? What do you have to do different?
Well, I think there is many things. I played a lot on clay and hard courts. I mean I played on a grass court as well. I started playing when I was 16 in the junior Wimbledon. So, I did get some practice on grass as well but I never kind of maybe believed that I can play well on grass because my first two years on grass were not great. So, I think that was also the case but coming here I came very early here. I came Wednesday morning, I already practiced Wednesday afternoon. So, I think that was also one of the very important points, just to come early and to have those couple of extra days to prepare for the tournament on a grass court. I’ve been working on my volleys a lot, on my serve as well a lot in the last weekend before I was coming here. So, I think that was the key. But it is for sure very tough and I still think … I mean I’m having a really good tournament so far now but I think I need to improve a lot on the grass. I don’t think my game is yet there on the grass. I don’t feel as confident as on a clay court for example.
–Do you like being the underdog tomorrow? Does it free up because you’ve got nothing to lose? You said you already did much better than you expected? Does it free you up for tomorrow?
Yes, I think I like that more than to be a favourite in a game. You know you can be more relaxed and you have nothing to lose. Yes, it frees me up for sure but especially like I said because I’m in the final and I didn’t expect that coming here. So, that’s one more thing where I can be really really loose. I have really nothing to lose tomorrow. So, I can go out there and I can just try to play my best tennis