Croatia’s Borna Coric is not your typical 19-year-old. In an era of men’s tennis in which experience rules and youngsters typically rack up more hype than victories, Coric has been a solid pro since he played his first ATP World Tour match at 16 in Umag. Today he is one of just three teenagers in the ATP’s Top 100 and has already notched more than 50 tour-level wins, including an eyebrow-raising triumph over Rafael Nadal in Basel when he was only 17.
Tennis TV’s Chris Oddo caught up with Coric while he was training in Toronto to talk about the difficulties that come with having success so early in a career, his expectations for the upcoming Olympic Games and his friendship with World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
Tennis TV: You’ve won the decisive rubber in two consecutive Davis Cup ties for Croatia this year. There’s a lot of history with Davis Cup helping players advance their careers, of course Novak is the biggest example in 2010. Do you feel like those wins can mean something bigger for you?
Borna Coric: Yes, I think it’s a huge boost for the confidence, it gives you much more belief. It’s a very special feeling because you are not only playing for yourself you are playing for the team, you are playing for the country, so I think definitely it helps in the future, yes.
TTV: Looking back specifically at your win in the fifth rubber over Jack Sock, you seemed to play more aggressively than usual. Was that a specific part of your tactics and is that something that could help you adjust your levels of aggression going forward?
BC: Yes, absolutely, that’s what I was trying to do. I knew if I didn’t pressure Jack I was going to struggle because he has a big forehand that could hurt me. I knew I had to play aggressive and I knew I had to play very good tennis, and it was my gameplan.
TTV: What is your take so far on the season? It has been mixed results. You have a couple of finals which have been huge, there have been a couple of tough losses and some of your results against the top players have maybe not been what you wanted, so how would you assess your performance thus far?
BC: I think it has been more than solid for sure. I played a couple of very good tournaments and also a couple of poor ones. At times I have been a little bit unlucky with the draws also, I have played against a few players which I don’t really like to play, but that’s the tennis. One day you have a good draw, one day not. I cannot complain, it’s been a solid season so far, nothing special, but solid. I’m just looking forward to the U.S. swing. I think I can do very well here.
TTV: Would you say that hard courts are the place you can make some damage or do you still feel like it’s clay all the way?
BC: I’m not sure. It depends where I play, obviously. On the clay court the last two years I was feeling really good—I had really good seasons on the clay court. On hard, not so much. But also I’ve shown that I can play well on the hard courts, so it’s a bit of both, but if you ask me overall I would prefer a clay court to play on.
TTV: You switched your schedule and did not play Umag this year. Was that hard for you? You must love that event. It has a great atmosphere and the people love you. Did you skip it because of Davis Cup, and do you plan to go back?
BC: Yes, it was only because of the scheduling. I really love that tournament. I’m always playing well there. I love the crowd and basically it’s my home. It just didn’t make any sense to go back and forth to Portland for Davis Cup and then back to Croatia before coming back to Canada, so I needed to stay here—I needed to decide. Even though I think I’m playing better on the clay court in Umag, that’s the life. That’s my sacrifice for the Davis Cup but obviously it was worth it. We are in the semifinals and that’s a great result.
TTV: How do you feel about playing the Olympics and are you aware of the fact that Croatia hasn’t had an Olympic gold medal winner yet? What would it mean to you if you can break through on that stage?
BC: It’s a very tough stage, obviously…. I think Marin [Cilic] has a great chance for the medal. He’s shown that he can play very good tennis. If I can get the medal of course it would be perfect, but I am not expecting it at all. I am just going there to gain experience. It’s a great privilege to play for my country and to be only 19 and to go to the Olympics, not many people can say that so you know it’s going to be a great privilege, it’s going to be a great experience, but I’m not really in for the medal, I think that’s too unrealistic.
TTV: Is it tough for you sometimes to sort of realize you are 19. Because you stormed out of the gates, beating Rafa at 17, beating Andy at 18. In your mind do you still you have lots of work to do and are you very patient about your progress?
BC: You know it all came very soon, all together. It was a great experience, but at the same time it was not that good. Because like you said everyone is expecting that you are going to beat all the players like that all the time, which is not possible. I am only 19 and I think I have huge amounts of the work which I need to do. I need to improve almost every aspect of my game. You know serve, volley, forehand, little bit backhand. I can see major improvements in my game and you know that’s my main goal for the next two or three years.
TTV: What would you say is the biggest difference between yourself as a player when you came into the tour at 2013 in Umag and yourself now? What are the defining differences?
BC: I improved very much physically. I’ve improved my serve.
TTV: I wanted to ask you about your relationship with Novak. Everybody knows you are pretty close to him, not just because you play like him but he’s become a friend of yours, hasn’t he?
BC: Absolutely. He’s a great guy. And he’s still helping, still training with me. Almost on every event. So it’s a great feeling. It gives me some more confidence on the courts and like you said we are very close friends.
TTV: I asked Grigor Dimitrov at Wimbledon, because he seems to get along with Novak pretty well, if he ever asked Novak for advice about how to make his career better and he said he wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that with Novak. Are you comfortable sitting down with him and saying ‘Novak, I want to get here, I want to make these steps in my career—can you give me some advice?’
BC: It’s a good question. I’m not sure. I will need to think about it. Obviously that’s the coach’s job. If you have a good coach I think he can help there a lot with that, so I need to think about it. I think I wouldn’t have any problem though.
TTV: Have you practiced with the other members of the big four, say Federer, Murray, Rafa or Stan?
BC: Yes, it depends on the tournament and also our schedules. It’s not always the same, but they’re all unbelievable guys, but very down to earth, so it’s very nice also to train with them.
“I am only 19 and I think I have huge amounts of work which I need to do. I need to improve almost every aspect of my game.”
TTV: What would you say is the biggest moment of your career so far? Since turning pro at 16 is there something that sticks out as your number one moment?
BC: Definitely beating Rafa in Basel for sure. No doubt about it.
TTV: Really? What about the win over Andy at Dubai and the five-setter over Robredo at Roland Garros?
BC: Yeah, they are all very good wins but the victory over Rafa is my first very big win and I’m always going to remember this.
TTV: If given the choice, would you rather win the Olympic Gold, the No. 1 ranking or a Grand Slam title?
BC: Grand Slam title.
TTV: What would you say is the best piece of advice you got about your tennis career?
BC: Just enjoy the tennis. Enjoy the journey.