Borna Coric has had ‘that look’ in his eye all week long at the Western & Southern Open; a kind of single-minded glower that could only belong to someone who’s been denied their livelihood for far too long.
That look was there when the 25-year-old Croatian, limited to just nine matches in 2021 due to right shoulder surgery, stunned Rafael Nadal 7-6(9), 4-6, 6-3 in the second round, only his fifth tour-level win since returning to competition in March. It was there again in successive straight-sets dismissals of seeds Roberto Bautista Agut (6-2, 6-3), Felix Auger-Aliassime (6-4, 6-4) and Cameron Norrie (6-3, 6-4) en route to his first ATP Masters 1000 final since Shanghai in 2018.
All those hours of rehab, all those hours on the practice court? They’re beginning to pay off.
“I was really working very hard in the last six months,” said Coric, who arrived in Cincinnati an unaccustomed No. 152 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and became the lowest-ranked finalist in tournament history. “I think once you are in the Top 20 or Top 30, you can get a little bit sloppy and maybe get away with it. But once you fall down to No. 200 — I don’t know where I was, but I knew I needed to work probably three times harder than I used to work, and that’s what I did. For the last six months, I was really focussed. I kept my head down even when I was losing.”
On Sunday, Coric will face fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, a 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-3 winner over World No. 1 and 2019 champion Daniil Medvedev in his rain-delayed semi-final at the Lindner Family Tennis Center. Third time’s a charm for the Greek star, who after stalling in the semis the past two years in Cincinnati is finally through to the title match.
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Tsitsipas, who now owns a tour-leading 46 match wins on the year, is into his second career ATP Masters 1000 hard-court final after Toronto in 2018.
“I’m prepared for it. I know it’s not an easy task playing against him,” said the 24-year-old Tsitsipas, an ATP Masters 1000 titlist the past two years in Monte Carlo. “He’s coming back from an injury, he’s playing great tennis, and he’s going to work very hard for it.”
The finalists have split their two ATP Head2Heads with Coric claiming their most recent encounter in a 2020 US Open epic, battling back from two-sets-to-one down and saving six match points to prevail, 6-7(2), 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(4).
In his own words, Coric has “gambled” this week with his surgically repaired shoulder, especially from the service stripe. He’ll roll the dice again opposite his next opponent, against whom he’ll need to be ready for anything. Tsitsipas showed plenty of variety in upending Medvedev, coming into net 36 times and mixing in some well-timed serve-and-volley plays.
“I don’t have much to lose,” said Coric. “I have done everything that I could this week and more than I expected, so I’m just going to go out there and enjoy my time tomorrow on the court.”