Borna Coric entered the Gerry Weber Open with just two wins in nine tour-level matches on grass, but, on Sunday, he lifted his first title on the surface, defeating nine-time champion Roger Federer 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-2.
"[I am] just really surprised... I had not even dreamed of this," said Coric.
Coric, who also beat second seed Alexander Zverev in the first round, snapped Federer's 20-match win streak on grass after two hours and six minutes, hitting 11 aces and saving three of four break points en route to his second tour-level title (2017 Marrakech). The 21-year-old saved two set points at 4/6 down in the first-set tie-break and secured the only break of the deciding set, in the sixth game, en route to victory.
"[During] the whole whole week I was serving really well," reflected Coric. "I felt confident that I could hold serve and then automatically I can play with less stress."
Coric has now won 24 of 34 tour-level matches this season. The World No. 34, who reached the semi-finals of the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals last November, showed signs of his best form during back-to-back ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events in March. Coric reached the BNP Paribas Open semi-finals, losing in three sets to Federer, before falling to Alexander Zverev at the last-eight stage of the Miami Open presented by Itaú. The talented Croatian is now 2-3 in tour-level finals.
Federer, who owned a 2-0 FedEx ATP Head2Head record against the Croatian heading into the championship match, was aiming to win a 10th title in 12 finals at the event and retain his status as World No. 1 in the ATP Rankings. As a result of his three-set loss to the Croatian, Rafael Nadal will return to the top spot of the ATP Rankings on 25 June.
"I’m definitely going to leave with my head high, thinking it’s been a good run in Stuttgart and Halle," said Federer.
Coric improves to 6-13 against Top 5 opposition after wins over top two seeds Federer and Zverev this week. The 6'1" star is projected to rise to a new career-high ranking of No. 21 on 25 June. Coric's previous best ATP Ranking came earlier this year on 2 April (No. 28).
With both players holding serve comfortably throughout the first set, Federer was the first to earn a break point opportunity at 5-5. The Swiss earned himself an great chance at a cross-court forehand passing shot to serve for the set, but, crucially, the ball clipped the tape before Coric eventually held serve.
Once again, Federer manufactured chances in the tie-break, earning two set points at 6/4, before Coric responded emphatically with forehand aggression to reel off four straight points.
"I think the key maybe in hindsight was trying to [win] that first-set tie-break. I had more chances throughout the set, I had chances at 6/4," said Federer.
As was the case in the first set, Federer made the first move in the second set. The nine-time champion took advantage of a series of errors from Coric to earn break points at 4-3 and broke through in fortunate fashion as Coric dumped a forehand volley into the net. Federer then held serve to love to force a decider.
The final set started competitively, with Coric and Federer holding their opening two service games. But, from that point, Coric took charge. The Croatian stepped up his aggression on both groundstrokes to secure a 4-2 lead before breaking once more, two games later, to clinch 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."
Coric receives 500 ATP Ranking points and collects €427,590 in prize money for lifting the trophy. Federer gains 300 points and receives €209,630.
"[Coric played] quality tennis at the very end of that first set and then in the third... He never really dropped his level and that was it," said Federer. "So, it was an unfortunate match for me but credit to Borna to really come out and play a tough match today."