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Borna Coric participated in the 2015 Heineken Open.

Star of Tomorrow: Borna Coric

Borna Coric has a tattoo inked on the inside of his right bicep that reads, 'There is nothing worse in life than being ordinary'. Good job then that this 18-year-old Croatian could well be on his way to being extraordinary.
Borna Coric has a tattoo inked on the inside of his right bicep that reads, 'There is nothing worse in life than being ordinary'. Good job then that this 18-year-old Croatian could well be on his way to being extraordinary.

You could be chatting to your average 18-year-old kid. The talk is of driving tests, high school subjects, a love of Nespresso coffee… and how much horsepower his dream car will have, when he passes that driving test.

But Borna Coric is far from average. The youngster from Zagreb, who, in case you missed it, stunned World No. 3 Rafael Nadal at the Swiss Indoors Basel last October, harbours an intense passion for tennis, an uncanny maturity and a drive bordering on sadistic when it comes to getting the best from himself.

Having started the 2014 season outside the Top 300 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, Coric ended it standing in front of 17,500 people at The O2, collecting the ATP Star of Tomorrow Award Presented by Emirates during a visit to the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

So excited was John McEnroe by Coric’s season that he tipped the Croat to be Top 10 within three years (via Tennis Podcast). If Borna has his way, it’ll be sooner.

Beating Nadal may have been a little ahead of schedule, but Borna’s breakthrough had long been anticipated by those closest to him. Having first picked up a racquet to play with his sister when he was five years old, Coric’s development has since been chartered by countrymen Goran Ivanisevic, Marin Cilic and Mario Ancic, all of who have nurtured Coric though his transition from the juniors to budding professional.

“He’s very well grounded; a smart guy and has the heart of a champion,” declares former World No. 7 Ancic. “I have zero doubt he will be on top of the tennis world. He will be a superstar.
 
“He’s a warrior. He will grind, he will bleed; he will find a way to win. These are the intangibles that will lead him really far in his career. This is just the first glimpse of Borna Coric in the world of tennis.”

Cilic, who under the guidance of Ivanisevic came of age to win his first Grand Slam title at the US Open last September, is of the same mind as Ancic when it comes to Coric’s will to win.

“Borna often goes above his limits,” says Cilic. “That's one of his best qualities. He's not afraid. [In 2014] he had some cramps from going through it. I was a little bit surprised when he beat Rafa, but it shows his spirit and the way he's able to play.”

Coric ended his junior career in style, beating Aussie young gun Thanasi Kokkinakis to claim the 2013 US Open crown. That victory propelled him to junior World No. 1 and set the stage for an impressive Davis Cup performance against that year’s Wimbledon champion, Andy Murray.

Hungry for more, Coric worked his trade at Futures and Challengers before taking his first steps on the ATP World Tour on home soil in Umag last year. “I'd already started thinking, 'I'm not going to get this ATP win; I'm never going to do it,'” remembers Coric. “I knew deep down that it was not true, but I was getting a little bit worried.”

He needn’t have fretted. Buoyed by his vociferous home crowd, which held a multitude of family and friends, Coric dismissed Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Horacio Zeballos in straight sets to reach the quarter-finals, where he lost a tight three-setter against World No. 20 Fabio Fognini.

Coric went on to make his Grand Slam debut as a qualifier at the US Open, beating Lukas Rosol to reach the second round, and picked up an ATP Challenger Tour title in Turkey before heading to Basel five days before the tournament, where it all just clicked into place.

"I felt unbelievably good on the court [in Basel]," recalls Coric. "I was playing very good. I felt that something big might happen, but I wasn't expecting anything because I had quite a tough draw. When I beat Gulbis, I told myself that I could win the next round as well. When I was playing against Rafa, I said to myself, 'You did more than you expected, so just enjoy the moment.' And I did enjoy the moment."

“Borna is going to be very, very good,” says 2001 Wimbledon champion Ivanisevic, who has worked with Coric since his early teens and still phones him on a daily basis to motivate him and give him advice on opponents.

“He is very strong mentally for his age, he is fast, and probably the player he is most similar to in style is [Novak] Djokovic. Big occasions do not worry him; he showed that in Davis Cup against Murray and Great Britain, and in beating Nadal.”

Indeed, in an era when many players are peaking in their late 20s on the ATP World Tour, some of the qualities that set Coric apart from the swathes of teenagers attempting to make it on Tour are his on-court demeanour, inner belief and drive.

“I think I can challenge anyone in the world, but I can't beat anyone in the world,” says Coric. “But apart from the Top 10 guys, I can beat all others, I think. I really love it when I have a big crowd behind me, the big time. I do like the big occasions.”

It won’t surprise you to learn that Borna is a keen boxer and ardent admirer of Mike Tyson. So much so, that when he takes his leave from tennis, he’d like to try his hand as a professional boxer. Right now, though, it serves as a vent for teenage angst and some handy cardio and footwork training.

“I get all of the anger out of my system,” admits Coric. “I don't box often, but a little bit when I'm back at home. I've never had a boxing match, but it's very similar [to tennis]. It's tough mentally; you need to be focussed all the time. I love the one-to-one battle, because everything is on me, I don't depend on anyone.”

He may not have the physique of his contemporary, Nick Kyrgios, but, aided no doubt by the boxing training, a growing strength and power is something that has been significant in Coric’s development in the past 12 months.

“I’ve improved a lot physically,” he says. “A year ago I was still a small kid and I just couldn’t cope with all the guys who were much bigger. Now, I’m much stronger. Tennis-wise, my serve improved a lot. I can still work on it, because some days it’s a very low percentage. Also, my forehand, which is still not as good as I want, but I’m sure it’s going to come with time.”

Borna’s rise has not escaped the attention of the game’s elite. He trained with Nadal for 10 days in December 2013; Djokovic invited him for a hit in Dubai last month and he can count Milos Raonic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and David Ferrer among his hitting partners.

That experience, combined with a season featuring tournaments from Futures up to Grand Slam level, has taught Coric some valuable lessons as he looks to press on in 2015.

“I saw there’s not actually such a big difference between Grand Slams and Challengers in tennis quality,” says Coric. “It’s all in the head. If you believe that you can win, it’s very important. One year ago, I wouldn’t warm up before a practice or stretch afterwards. When you’re Top 10, those kind of things can’t happen. I learned also that in every practice you need to be 100 per cent.  It’s very inspiring to see how the top players play, and where I needx to improve.”

After losing to him in Basel, Nadal cautioned that a speedy rise up the Emirates ATP Rankings is not a given for Coric. “There are a lot of young players that started well then stopped,” said the Spaniard. “There are some young players that started well and continued very well. It depends on him and how he's able to improve his level.”

But Coric certainly has no intention of basking in last year’s success and resting on his laurels in 2015. Now inside the Top 100, Coric has set his sights on the Top 50.

“I need to get into the Top 10 before I can say, 'I did it',” he says. “That was my goal when I was younger. I always have high expectations for myself.

“My goal is to finish 2015 in the Top 50. I can do it. I think it's a very realistic goal. I need to play my best tennis always, because it's not going to be easy. I'm going to give it my best and work hard as always.

“My expectation for 2014 had been to reach the Top 200. I really did some very good results at the end of the year. I was very pleased, but I can’t look back anymore. I have a new season, new challenges. It’s going to be a very interesting season for sure.”