A few months later, Coric upset Andy Murray on his way to the last-four in Dubai and by July 2015, he was 18 years old and ranked No. 33 in the world.
The expectations heightened, comparisons to Novak Djokovic poured in, and Coric was seen as one of the most promising teenagers tipped to rule the tour in the future. His work ethic was believed to be second to none, and he had a seriousness to him rarely seen in teens his age.
But instead of continuing to move in that upward direction, Coric’s progress plateaued and other ‘NextGen’ players passed him by. A year ago, he dipped to as low as 79 in the world.
At the end of last season, the Croat decided to do something drastic about it.
A complete overhaul of his team saw him hire ex-world No. 3 and current coach of Roger Federer, Ivan Ljubicic, as his manager. He also joined forces with Milos Raonic’s former coach Riccardo Piatti and hired Kristijan Schneider as a second coach, Dalibor Sirola as his fitness coach and Claudio Zimaglia as his physio.
Just a couple of months into the 2018 season the partnership with the new team started to pay dividends.
Point of the tournament so far❓
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) March 18, 2018
After a disappointing opening round exit at the Australian Open in January, Coric began to turn things around. He claimed two important wins for Croatia against Canada in Davis Cup over Denis Shapovalov and Vasek Pospisil before making the quarter-finals in Dubai, where he lost to eventual champion Roberto Bautista Agut.
Then March Madness kicked in and Coric reached the semis in Indian Wells, where he almost defeated Federer, then made it to the quarters in Miami.
His reward was a place in the world’s top-30 for the first time in his career but Coric’s progress is much more than a move up in the rankings.
He has emerged from the past three seasons as a mature 21-year-old who speaks with so much clarity about where things went wrong for him, and how he should approach the upcoming stretch of his career.
“I had very big success when I was very, very young. But also at that time, I was okay No. 33 or something like that but my game level was not there,” Coric told reporters in Indian Wells last month.
“If I see myself now and when I was 18 and 33 in the world, you can’t compare the two players, I’m a much better player now.
“Back then, it was my first year on the tour, no one knew me, I was the new guy. I was fighting a lot, I was lucky in some tournaments, because Rafa, he was semi-injured (in Basel), then in Dubai I got in as a lucky loser, Marcos (Baghdatis) retired in the tiebreak, Andy (Murray) played probably the worst match of his life, it all kind of… I was really lucky and of course I took my chances, I take the credit as well, it’s not like I was only lucky. But if you compare the two players, there is no comparison. It’s a completely different player.
“It was a good thing in some ways but in other ways it was not good because I stopped improving, I just thought it’s going to go by itself and I’m going to become better and better but it’s not.
“If you stop working, if you’re not working on the right things, I was playing too many tournaments, I was focusing too much on the ranking, not on improving. It comes to the point where you’re going to start dropping, you can’t always go up just because you’re lucky or something.”
Coric realised he needed to make some serious changes to his team at the end of the 2017 season because he felt he was “stagnating”. He spent the offseason at Piatti’s academy in Bordighera and he has the Italian in his corner this week in Monte Carlo where Coric faces Djokovic in the second round on Wednesday.
“I just felt like I needed a change, completely change, not only the coach but the manager and the fitness coach and the physio, a completely different view to the tennis, how we’re going to work, a different approach,” explains Coric.
The Zagreb native, who is a resident in Dubai, believes there is a collaborative environment in the team and even though Piatti is technically the head coach, everyone has a say when it comes to any decision.
“That’s why I love the new team, I’m not saying I’m always right, but I want to speak and I want to know, okay if you want to do something different than me, which is perfectly fine, but just to explain and just to talk, so that’s how we work,” says Coric.
Djokovic leads Coric 1-0 head-to-head with their sole previous meeting coming on clay in Madrid two years ago.
They come into the match in completely different positions with Djokovic still finding his way back from an elbow injury that required surgery in February and has limited him to playing just seven matches in 2018, while Coric is 15-6 this season and is brimming with confidence from his March exploits.
Still Coric isn’t taking anything for granted and knows that the key is to continue to work hard and improve his level.
“There is no magic light, nothing is going to turn. Okay I’m playing well now but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be in the top-10 in a few months,” he says.
“We need to work so that in two, three, four years I can become a top-10 tennis player, that’s my goal. We are a team, we really get along, no one is trying to be the boss. We always talk, everyday, all together, about today, about the long-term plan… that’s why it’s working very good for now.”
The backhand has always been Coric’s stronger shot, even though he feels it broke down a bit last season. He feels he is playing more aggressively and closer to the baseline and says his forehand is always a work in progress.
“It’s been my main focus my whole life pretty much, it’s not a secret,” he says of his forehand.
“Of course there are matches where I’m happy with it, there are matches where I’m missing it maybe too much or I’m not going for it. I did improve it for sure but I don’t see this as a final.”
Ljubicic, who coaches Federer but manages players like Coric and Tomas Berdych, touches base with his compatriot constantly but doesn’t interfere with Piatti’s coaching duties.
“He’s my manager obviously. He kind of watches on everything from a different angle and from time to time gives me opinions and checks that I’m on the right path,” Coric said of Ljubicic’s role in his team.
“We see each other often when I’m back in Monte Carlo or Bordighera. We speak every day, a lot – not so much about technique and tactics but other stuff like my approach to the game and stuff like that.”
With an A-list team in corner, and a newfound perspective and maturity, can Coric stop Djokovic on the clay of Monte Carlo on Wednesday? It certainly won’t be a cakewalk for the 12-time Grand Slam champion.
Novak Djokovic eased many of his fans’ worries on Monday with a dominant display against fellow Serb Dusan Lajovic to reach the Monte Carlo Masters second round, dropping just one game in his 56-minute rout.
It was the first time Djokovic competed in a first round in Monte Carlo, without the benefit of having a bye, since he faced Roger Federer as an 18-year-old back in 2006 in his opening match there.
But judging from his straight-sets beatdown of Lajovic on Monday, Djokovic’s opener at the Monte Carlo Country Club was more of a bye and less of a contest.
The two-time Monte Carlo champion lives just down the road from the tournament venue and looked at home in his clash with his compatriot.
Here are the main takeaways from Djokovic’s victory…
A HAPPY HOUR
While Lajovic didn’t put up much of a fight – barring that final game of the match – Djokovic can certainly draw lots of confidence and positives from his opening match in Monaco, which was just his fourth victory of the season, and first since January.
Carrying a three-match losing streak into the tournament, Djokovic looked much better on court than he did in his opening round defeats in Indian Wells and Miami last month. He was hitting much cleaner, playing with a purpose instead of the confused and lost demeanour he had in the California desert four weeks ago, and delivered solid execution.
The 12-time Grand Slam champion did not face a break point in the first set, and saved all four Lajovic created in the second.
Djokovic’s footwork was on point, sliding all over the red clay of the Principality, and seamlessly switching from defence to offence. When he ventured to the net, he won all eight points up front, and changed the direction of the ball on demand, in ways only he can.
Djokovic fired 19 winners against 16 unforced errors. His backhand was responsible for nine winners and he managed three service winners – a decent sign for someone who had elbow surgery in February.
Oh hello there. 👋
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) April 16, 2018
The 30-year-old landed 62 per cent of his first serves in, won 82 per cent of the points on his first serve and 53 per cent of the points on his second.
Djokovic had the support of a full box courtside that included his former coach Marian Vajda, who is accompanying the Serb in Monte Carlo this week, with no commitment to future plans together as of yet. Djokovic spent 11 years working with Vajda and their reunion is already paying dividends.
NEXT STEP WON’T BE EASY
Djokovic will face far tougher opposition in the next round as he takes on in-form 21-year-old Borna Coric, who is enjoying a career-best season so far, with a semi-final showing in Indian Wells and a quarter-final appearance in Miami. Initially regarded as a mini Djokovic, Coric showed up on tour with a game that is very similar to the Serb’s, and he also shared his work ethic.
Coric is 15-6 this season, while Djokovic is a meager 4-3. The young Croat claimed his first Monte Carlo win on Monday 6-2, 6-3 over Julien Benneteau.
Djokovic is 1-0 head-to-head against Coric, with their sole meeting coming on clay in Madrid in 2016.
Clay season starting in Monte Carlo. Its good to be back on red clay in Europe. Are you ready? 💪🏼💪🏼💪🏼💪🏼 pic.twitter.com/EeR6xcFAMN
— borna coric (@borna_coric) April 16, 2018
The first of three Masters 1000 clay tournaments begins on Sunday as stars of the ATP tour take to the courts of the Monte Carlo Country Club, looking to stop Rafael Nadal from clinching a record-extending 11th trophy there.
Last year, Nadal won a 10th Monte Carlo Masters crown by defeating his fellow Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the final and, at 30 years and 10 months old, became the oldest champion in the Open Era at the tournament.
The Mallorcan is 63-4 win-loss in Monte Carlo and shares the record of most Masters 1000 titles won (30) with Novak Djokovic.
The draw for this year’s event was revealed on Friday.
Here’s a look at the main talking points ahead of the action on the red dirt of the Principality.
A TALE OF TWO HALVES
A quick glance at the draw and you realise how lop-sided it is.
A stacked top quarter houses Nadal and Djokovic – the only two former champions in the draw – along with Dominic Thiem, Borna Coric, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev.
Sharing with them the top half are fourth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov and sixth-seeded David Goffin.
Australian Open and Wimbledon runner-up Marin Cilic headlines the bottom half, together with Rome champion Alexander Zverev.
Three of the four semi-finalists from last year’s edition are in the top half, which will no doubt be an absolute clay blood bath.
Nadal will open against either Slovenian Aljaz Bedene or a qualifier before a potential second round against Roger Federer’s Miami conqueror Kokkinakis or Russian big hitter Khachanov.
Two-time champion Djokovic is seeded No. 9 in Monte Carlo and is a potential quarter-final opponent for Nadal. Thiem the No. 5 seed and two-time French Open semi-finalist or Croatia’s Coric, who made the semis and quarters in the opening two Masters 1000 events of the season, could also face Nadal in the last-eight.
THE DOMINIC EFFECT
Thiem posed the biggest threat to Nadal on clay last season and should once again take over that role this upcoming stretch. But while the 24-year-old Austrian has already shown his mettle on the surface, and defeated Nadal twice in seven clay meetings, Thiem’s record in Monte Carlo is a poor 3-4 win-loss.
His best showing in Monaco so far has been reaching the third round in 2016.
He may have to defeat the likes of Rublev and Djokovic before a potential quarter-final showdown with Nadal. Thiem and Nadal faced off four times on European clay last year (in Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Paris).
Will we get an early taste of this clay masterpiece next week?
DJOKOVIC’S DAUNTING DRAW
The draw gods have not been kind to Djokovic in Monte Carlo with the Serb’s possible path looking like this:
R1: Qualifier; R2: Coric/Benneteau; R3: Thiem/Rublev; QF: Nadal; SF: Goffin/Dimitrov; F: Zverev/Cilic
Accompanied by his former coach Marian Vajda in Monte Carlo, Djokovic will be looking to snap a three-match losing streak and capture a first match victory since January.
— ATP World Tour (@ATPWorldTour) April 14, 2018
Nadal must defend his Monte Carlo title if he wants to keep his No. 1 ranking. Any other result and the Spaniard will relinquish the summit to Federer, who is just 100 points behind Nadal in the rankings and will not be playing again until the grass season in June.
FIRST ROUNDS TO WATCH
Tomas Berdych (CZE x12) v Kei Nishikori (JPN)
Nishikori will be playing Monte Carlo for the first time since 2012 and just the second time in his career. He has only ever played three matches at the tournament and incidentally, his last clash there was a three-set defeat to Berdych, who takes on the Japanese in the opening round next week.
The 28-year-old is unseeded as his ranking has slipped to 39 in the world due to injury. He leads Berdych 4-1 head-to-head but all four wins over the Czech came on hard courts.
Berdych, a Monaco resident, was runner-up to Djokovic in Monte Carlo in 2015. He is down to No. 18 in the world and needs to do better than his last-16 showing from 2017 if he wants to gain ranking points next week.
Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS) v Karen Khachanov (RUS)
Kokkinakis received a wildcard into the Monte Carlo draw with his ranking still a low 148 following a long battle with injuries that halted his progress over the past three years.
The 22-year-old Aussie stunned Roger Federer in the Miami second round last month and is starting to show the kind of form that made him such a promising prospect back in 2015 when he peaked at 69 in the world as a teenager.
This will be his first meeting against the 21-year-old Khachanov, who is ranked No. 40. Kokkinakis is making his tournament debut while Khachanov is making his second main draw appearance.
It could be an interesting battle between two young talents boasting big games.
Rafael Nadal (ESP x1) v Dominic Thiem (AUT x5)
Grigor Dimitrov (BUL x4) v David Goffin (BEL x6)
Lucas Pouille (FRA x7) v Alexander Zverev (GER x3)
Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP x8) v Marin Cilic (CRO x2)