Fit-Again Coric Spoils Nadal's Cincinnati Return

Croatian earns best win since March return from shoulder surgery

Borna Coric picked up his fifth tour-level win since his March return from shoulder surgery on Wednesday at the Western & Southern Open. But with this one, the former World No. 12 announced that he is back at his best.

The Croatian edged Rafael Nadal 7-6(9), 4-6, 6-3 to advance to the third round in Cincinnati, battling for two hours, 51 minutes to secure his biggest win of the season by both opponent and stage. After taking a dramatic first-set tie-break in which both players saved two set points, Coric scored his first break of the match midway through the decider as he dictated play in the final set.

"It has been very, very special," Coric said of his win on centre court. "I was out for the last two years and I didn't play on the big stage in front of the crowd and everybody. I was honestly just looking forward to playing this match as I haven't had that in the last two years. Now that I won, it's kind of crazy."

Nadal's defeat ends his bid for a return to the top spot in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings this week. The World No. 3 will have another chance to leapfrog Alexander Zverev and Daniil Medvedev at the US Open.

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Both players opened confidently despite a relative lack of match play — Coric playing his sixth tour-level contest since withdrawing ahead of Wimbledon and Nadal taking the court for the first time since pulling out of the grass-court Slam ahead of the semi-finals.

Nadal made a particularly strong start, pumping his fist after stepping into a down-the-line backhand on the very first point and not committing an unforced error until the seventh game. Coric also settled in quickly with a first-round win against Lorenzo Musetti already under his belt, and he began to enjoy the better of the rallies until a one-hour rain delay came with Nadal leading 5-4.

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When they returned and soon after headed to the tie-break, Nadal roared with the crowd as he battled back from 2/4, but was left to rue a missed swinging volley at 6/5. With Nadal's double faulted on Coric's third set point, the Croatian made amends after a botched drop shot on a short ball at 9/8.

Nadal capitalised on the lone break point midway through an entertaining second set, with both players creating stunning angles to complement strong baseline hitting. Both competitors flashed quick hands at the net as well, with each winning 10 of 15 net points.

Coric applied greater pressure in the decider and was a deserved winner after securing his first break of the match to move ahead 4-2. He backed up the breakthrough with a love hold and had no problems serving out the match after opening his final service game with a statement winner to cap a gruelling rally.

He will next face Roberto Bautista Agut, who advanced to the third round with a 6-3, 6-3 win against home hope Marcos Giron earlier on Wednesday.

"It's going to be a very interesting match," said Coric, who holds a 5-4 ATP Head2Head series lead against the Spaniard. "I need to be very aggressive for sure, especially because I was playing for a very long time today and I also finished very late. So I'm going to be even more aggressive probably. "

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