At the fourth time of asking, Croatia’s Borna Coric negotiated the semi-final stage and made his way to a first-ever ATP World Tour final on Saturday night when he beat Aljaz Bedene of Great Britain 7-6(5) 6-7(5) 6-3 here at the Aircel Chennai Open 2016.
In a marathon match that four minutes short of three hours, Coric and Bedene delivered under the lights in the second semi-final after Stan Wawrinka had won earlier in a stroll.
The two players gave it everything, both desperate to get to the final. For Bedene, it was a chance to show that last year’s runner-up finish was no fluke while for Coric it was to show the world why exactly he is being thought of as a big deal.
Having lost at Basel in 2014 and Dubai and Nice in 2015, Coric was looking to get over the semi-final hurdle at the fourth time of asking. After his match against Roberto Bautista-Agut in the quarters, Coric said he wasn’t happy with any part of his game in that clash; there was so much good play from him in the first set of this one though, from both players in fact.
The Coric forehand was working beautifully; every time he was allowed to position himself in his forehand corner at the edge of the baseline, the spin and pace on the shots, both crosscourt and down the line, unseated Bedene.
The first set was indeed a matter of a few points that decided who would win it. Going to a tiebreak after both players looked solid on serve, Coric eked out the advantage to get his nose in front.
Bedene confessed he was a “slow starter” after his previous match against India’s Ramkumar Ramanathan and looked to be at it again, upping his game that slightly at the beginning of the second. Coric’s forehand which had been impeccable until this point decided to desert him for a few games and the Croat got broken in the fourth game as a result.
As Bedene looked to have gotten the advantage to level things up, the Coric forehand returned, welcomed back by some absolute gifts from Bedene. In the seventh game, the Brit went down 0-40 on serve, after an inside-out backhand crosscourt service return on a second serve from Coric and two bad unforced errors from Bedene’s racquet. The break was surrendered and we were all square again and the set was decided once again in the tiebreak.
It was Bedene this time who got the better of the exchanges and the match went into the decider with Bedene having the slight momentum advantage.
Coric faced that pressure in the very first service game of the third as he saved break points. And after more pressure, he did get broken in the third game, Bedene moving him from side to side and forcing errors out of his teenaged opponent.
Bedene though couldn’t capitalize as Coric turned it up a gear, and it was 0-40 and three break points to Coric in the very next game. Coric broke for 2-2 and that was a key game in the scheme of things.
The decisive moment of the match came in the seventh game when Bedene was so very close to getting past; he had his foot in the door several times only for Coric to slam shut. Four break points came in this game and Bedene let all four slip away, three of them due to unforced errors.
Coric took full advantage and reinvigorated after such a taxing game, brought out his best in the next. Bedene, perhaps still thinking about the squandered chances, got broken to love as he played a terrible game to swing the match in Coric’s favour.
The 19-year-old Coric served it out in the next, a scream of delight let out after the win with a thump of the chest in tow.
Both players played at a very high level in this match, with the serve working well. Coric had 17 aces while Bedene had 16 and both players winning over 70% of points when they got their first delivery in.
Coric becomes the youngest finalist on tour since Kei Nishikori in 2008 (Delray Beach) and the first teen in a final since Marin Cilic also in 2008 (New Haven). He is 0-2 against Wawrinka, the first of which came right here in Chennai a year ago.
Coric took a medical time out in the third set at 3-2. Asked about it, Coric said, “I had had little too much to drink, too much fluids. My stomach was feeling full and I felt I was going to throw up. The doctor gave me some pills and it was much better after that.”
“Every time, every time… same story”, Coric screamed at his box after getting broken in the second set. When asked what that was about, the 19-year-old explained, “It’s only about me. My box, you know, I need to speak to them sometimes, but I’m never going to blame my coach or my dad or my girlfriend for some mistake. I just need to get it out of my system.”
“I’m very happy to be in the final, it’s a great feeling. It is the first tournament of the season which is also very important because I need to start the season very well. I didn’t expect to play this well. Now for the rest of the season, it is going to give me a boost and I hope to get some confidence from this”, said the Croat looking at the final.