Rivalries Of 2018: Federer vs. Coric
ATP World Tour Season In Review: Best Rivalries
Prior to 2018, Borna Coric and Roger Federer had met just once on the ATP World Tour. On that occasion, at the 2015 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, Federer cruised past the Croatian in just 56 minutes to reach the championship match in the Middle East.
This year, none of their three FedEx ATP Head2Head clashes showed any resemblance to that meeting. With three years of learning experience under his belt, Coric's three milestone moments in 2018 were all highlighted by clashes against Federer. With two semi-final encounters and one championship match meeting in 2018, Coric and Federer only met in the latter stages of events as the stakes and both players' form reached peak levels.
After defeating Kevin Anderson in a final-set tie-break to reach his maiden ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semi-final at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Coric was handed the challenge of trying to end Federer's personal record-tying 16-match unbeaten streak to start the season. (Federer began 2018 in top form, claiming his 20th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open before returning to No. 1 in the ATP Rankings after winning the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in February.)
Coric made a dream start against Federer in the Californian desert, snatching a late break in the opening set before earning an immediate second-set advantage after firing a forehand winner. With Pete Sampras and Rod Laver in attendance, it appeared as though the young Croatian might be able to earn a surprise win over the World No. 1 on one of the grandest stages in the sport. But, as Coric neared the finish line, nerves settled into the 21-year-old's game.
Federer struck just four unforced errors in the last four games of the second set as Coric's serve began to fall short and the Swiss took full advantage. Coric once again led by a break in the decider, but Federer clawed his way back into contention before eventually breaking to love to claim a 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 victory and set a personal record 17-0 start to an ATP World Tour season.
“I should have lost [the] match," said Federer. "I was down twice a break in the third, I was down a break in the second. So no doubt about it, this was definitely the toughest match [of the year so far]."
“It was very enjoyable, but at the same time it was tough. It doesn't feel great to lose this match, but I know that's tennis. I need to look at it from the positive side, definitely, just the whole tournament, and this match as well.”
Three months later, Federer arrived in Halle in search of his 10th Gerry Weber Open trophy. After capturing his first MercedesCup title in Stuttgart the week before, the nine-time champion advanced to his 12th final in Halle riding a 20-match grass-court winning streak. Across the net was Coric, who, prior to his arrival at the ATP World Tour 500 event, owned just two wins in nine tour-level matches on grass.
But, despite his inexperience on the surface, Coric had defeated Alexander Zverev for the loss of just five games en route to the final. Federer needed to lift the trophy in Halle to remain at No. 1 in the ATP Rankings, but it was Coric who ended the week with the trophy in his arms after a 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-2 victory.
Saving two set points at 4/6 in the first set-tie-break, Coric took a one-set lead over the World No. 1 in dramatic fashion. Despite conceding the second set after dropping serve at 3-4, Coric reeled off four straight games from 2-2 in the decider to charge towards the biggest title of his career.
"It is the most unbelievable feeling, [to beat Federer]," said Coric. "I looked up to him when I was younger, watching his matches back at home with my mum, my dad and my sister. Just playing him here today was a very special moment and beating him just makes it even bigger for me."
The result lifted Coric to a career-high No. 21 in the ATP Rankings and the Croatian continued to improve that position throughout the remainder of the season. In the final instalment of their 2018 trilogy, Coric and Federer clashed in the semi-finals of another ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event; the Rolex Shanghai Masters.
After tough three-set wins over Daniil Medvedev and Roberto Bautista Agut in his opening two matches, Federer arrived in the last four with great confidence following a convincing straight-sets win over an in-form Kei Nishikori. Coric had also been made to work hard for a position in his second Masters 1000 semi-final, navigating his way past Stan Wawrinka and Juan Martin del Potro to set a third meeting of the season against the Swiss.
With confidence from his previous two meetings in 2018 against Federer, Coric produced one of the best wins of his career, beating Federer 6-4, 6-4 in a dominant serving display to reach the biggest final of his career.
"It's absolutely there. If not the best [win], then it's in the Top 2, Top 3," said Coric. "It's really something special."
The Croatian landed nine aces, dropped just six points behind his first serve and did not face a break point to overcome the defending champion in 74 minutes. Tying his FedEx ATP Head2Head record against Federer for the first time, at 2-2, the Halle champion also guaranteed himself a new career-high of No. 13 in the ATP Rankings heading into his final encounter against Novak Djokovic.
"It's one of the best matches I have ever played. I was just feeling through the ball," said Coric. "I think I served the best in my life, for sure. I was going for the angles. I was going for the body. Everything was going in."
Ending the year at No. 12 in the ATP Rankings, it would appear that Coric and Federer may be forced to continue their trend of only meeting at the back end of tournaments in 2019. As one of the emerging talents on the ATP World Tour, will Coric be able to continue his rapid rise next year and continue his winning streak against Federer? Or will the 99-time tour-level champion find a way to reverse his recent fortunes against the 22-year-old and regain control of their FedEx ATP Head2Head series? If 2018 is anything to go by, it won't be an easy task for either man.
Coric vs. Federer: 2018 Meetings
|BNP Paribas Open||Hard||SF||Federer|| 5-7, 6-4, 6-4
|Gerry Weber Open||Grass||F||Coric|| 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-2
|Rolex Shanghai Masters||Hard||SF||Coric|| 6-4, 6-4