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Borna Coric will try to earn his third win against Rafael Nadal on Wednesday in Cincinnati.

'Kid In A Candy Store': Coric Ready For Another Nadal Showdown

Croatian reflects on comeback from shoulder surgery

Editor's Note: This story was first published on 16th August 2022.

On 24 October 2014, 17-year-old Borna Coric walked onto centre court at the Swiss Indoors Basel. In his first ATP 500 event, the Croatian stood across the net from his idol, Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals. It was an experience he will never forget.

“It was a full stadium for our quarter-final. I remember I was just enjoying it. I was super happy. I was like a kid in a candy store,” Coric told ATPTour.com. “It just felt good. I was in the moment, I was living my dream.”

It was a dream for Coric just to face Nadal. The teen did much more than that, defeating the Spaniard 6-2, 7-6(4). He now owns a 2-2 ATP Head2Head record against the legendary lefty, with those four meetings coming between 2014 and 2017.

Five years on from their most recent clash, Coric will get another chance to go stroke-for-stroke with the 36-time ATP Masters 1000 champion at the Western & Southern Open.

“I love those moments,” Coric said. “I love the big stages.”

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This occasion, however, will be different. When Coric played Nadal the first four times, he was a rising star. In 2014, he was the youngest player in the Top 100 of the year-end Pepperstone ATP Rankings. The next year, he was the youngest player in the year-end Top 50.

Coric earned nine victories against Top 5 opponents and climbed to a career-high World No. 12. But in May 2021, he underwent shoulder surgery and missed more than a year. No longer a phenom, Coric is now attempting to climb the tennis ladder again.

“It’s never easy to come back up after a big injury,” Coric said. “I was out for one year and it’s never easy to come back and play good tennis so every win you can get is hugely important also for my confidence and also for my ranking as my ranking is not there yet where I want it to be.”

It took Coric longer than expected to return to the court, and this season he made his comeback in March at the BNP Paribas Open. The Croatian has tallied a 5-8 tour-level record and competed in four ATP Challenger Tour events, winning one in Italy.

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That makes wins like the one he earned on Tuesday against Lorenzo Musetti more special. The match took nearly two hours in the Cincinnati heat, but Coric managed to find a way through.

“You need to enjoy the struggle sometimes as well. That’s why I train a lot in the heat and I try to go as long as possible so in these kind of matches I don’t struggle as much as maybe if I didn’t do [that],” Coric said. “Absolutely you need to respect the battle more if it’s such tough conditions like today to be honest.”

It is not just the tennis Coric needs to worry about. "I’m going to need to think about my shoulder until the end of my career, so I didn’t stop thinking about it,” he admitted.

During tournaments, Coric spends 30-40 minutes working on his shoulder alone. During non-tournament weeks, there are times when he spends 60-90 minutes on it.

“I have to be honest, it very soon became normal to me because if I want to do my job, which is to play tennis, I need to do this, otherwise I cannot play tennis,” Coric said. “I don’t think it’s a huge sacrifice to have an extra 30 minutes of work to get to play tennis. You get to do what you love, it’s not a huge deal. If I usually come one hour before practice, now I need to come one and a half hours. That’s it. It’s not a big deal.

“But I don’t think about it any more when I play to be honest because even if I feel a little bit of pain, which sometimes I do, I know nothing can break. I cannot do any more damage, so sometimes I just need to accept that I will have a little bit of pain and that is fine with me.”

That sounds like the mindset of Coric’s next opponent, Nadal. As much as the Croatian admires the lefty’s physical game, it is his mentality that stands out the most.

“Obviously about his game, I was loving everything. There is nothing wrong in his game, so you can look at each shot and you can try to do that, because he is one of the best on the Tour,” Coric said. “It’s more about the fighting spirit, which I think we can all learn from and he can be our idol.”

Currently World No. 152, Coric knows he is not back to his peak form yet. But that will not stop him from giving Nadal everything he has.

“[I will play] without any pressure. I just get to enjoy it even more now because I didn’t have those kind of matches and the competition in the past two years and I did miss that. I just get to enjoy it even more than when I was 17 or 18,” Coric said. “Since I was out now playing Challengers and all that, I just get to enjoy it even more now.”

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