2018 Shanghai Masters Day 6: Novak Djokovic and Borna Coric dazzle, Roger Federer and Alexander Zverev subpar
The great Jimmy Connors once said, "Tennis is 90% mental". Coming from somebody who's played more than 1500 matches on the professional circuit, the quote has got to have a lot of depth in it! And, it does.
Shanghai Masters' semifinals had two matches, four deserving candidates to lick up the final two spots. Any result could've been possible. But, it all came down to who had a stronger mental prowess on the day. Both matches were expected to be nail-biters from start to finish, and, in the end, the older youngster set up a mouthwatering match-up against the younger veteran, courtesy some dazzling individual performance.
In the first match of the day, Novak Djokovic had to face Alexander Zverev in their replay of 2017 Rome Masters final. Back when they played in Rome, Djokovic was a depleted version of himself, suffering from lack of confidence and form. That's not taking anything away from the German youngster who produced a clinical performance to dispatch any effort from Djokovic to win 6-4 6-3. On Saturday, Djokovic had to show Zverev what he could do at full power. Which he did.
For the first 10 minutes, it seemed as if Zverev was up for the task, hitting deep and playing with an aggressive mentality. But, Djokovic broke Zverev in the 4th game of the first set to take a 3-1 lead, with the steely resilience he's famous for. And, that was it for Alexander Zverev. With each point thereafter, Zverev got one step closer to a crushing defeat. And that's where the mental part of the game matters. Zverev, when he's in the zone, is an exceptional player, but when he's not, he falters and his mind goes AWOL along with his game. The semifinal wasn't any different either. Novak Djokovic cruised to a smooth 6-2 6-1 win in just 60 minutes.
Djokovic didn't necessarily play lights out, for that matter. All he did was keeping the basics of his game right. That was enough to rattle Zverev mentally. Ivan Lendl, Zverev's coach, has a lot of work cut out for when the off-season arrives.
In the second match of the day, Chinese fans were hoping for a Roger Federer masterclass after his quarterfinal against Kei Nishikori. But, what transpired was a masterclass from Borna Coric. He did everything that Zverev should have done. Played with intent right from the first point (literally), breaking Federer in the first game itself, racing on to a 2-0 lead within 6 minutes. Coric's groundstrokes were perfect today, but his serve made the difference. He won 82% of his service points and faced zero break points.
Federer played some of his worst tennis of the year, too, conceding yet another break on the first game of the second set, to trail 4-6 0-1. Coric didn't have to look back from there, as he held his nerves to bring up a 2nd consecutive victory over Federer with a 6-4 6-4 score.
The loss marked the first time since 2013, Federer had failed to win any tournament during the US Open Series and the Asian swing, despite playing at least 1 tournament in each continent. Also, his loss against Coric was against the lowest ranked player at a Masters 1000 semifinal, since he lost to 98th ranked Mardy Fish at Indian Wells in 2008.
With his win, Coric became only the 4th Croat male and the 2nd youngest to reach a Masters final, following in the footsteps of Croatian greats - Goran Ivanisevic, Ivan Ljubicic, and Marin Cilic.
Sunday promises to be an evenly matched contest between two deserving candidates - Borna Coric and Novak Djokovic. Djokovic leads their H2H 2-0 but both matches were on clay, and Coric has produced some fine performance this week.