Borna Coric beats Briton Aljaz Bedene in thriller to reach first ATP final
British No2 Aljaz Bedene is beaten 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 by Borna Coric in the Chennai Open semi-finals
It may be the only tournament on the men’s tour hosted by India, but the Aircel Chennai Open, on the warm and beautiful East India seaboard, has hailed some great champions in its 20 years, among them Grand Slam champions Pat Rafter and Carlos Moya.
In five of the last seven years, the honours board has again been dominated by Grand Slam champions in the shape of Marin Cilic, winner in 2009 and 2010, and Stan Wawrinka, unbeaten here for the last two years and the champion in 2011, too.
The Swiss man has cruised to the final once more this year, via victories over No5 seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and No3 seed Benoit Paire, but could the other semi-final set a replay of last year’s final?
It was between the losing finalist last year, British No2 Aljaz Bedene—at a career-high No44—and the impressive No8 seed, teenager Borna Coric—ranked just one place above the Briton, though he hit a career-high 33 during 2015.
Bedene clearly thrives at the Indian tournament, and won three qualifying and four main-draw matches last year over the likes of Feliciano Lopez and Roberto Bautista Agut to reach his first ATP final. In 2013, he lost to Wawrinka in the quarters and the year before, beat Wawrinka before losing to Janko Tipsarevic in the semis.
He had not made life easy for himself this time around, even though he had only faced one higher-ranked player, No7 seed Vasek Pospisil, in the first round. That match took 1hr 47mins, but his subsequent matches both required the Briton to come back from a set down and lasted more than two and a quarter hours—and this semi-final would be just the same.
Coric’s route had not been much easier: two three-setters including a comeback fight after losing the first set to steal victory from Baugista Agut in a final tie-breaker.
But this semi was nip and tuck all the way. After exchanging breaks in the opening set, both men played attacking tennis on their way to a tie-break. The all-round talent of the 19-year-old Croat produced an opening serve-and-volley winner. Bedene also tried to take control of the net, but was passed to concede the first point against serve. From 1-4 down, he stayed in touch, but Coric produced another piece of magic on match point, a serve-and-touch-volley winner, for the set, 7-6(5).
Bedene came back strongly, as both men continued to strike deep to both wings in some fine, long tactical rallies, with some drop shots here, some volley finishes there. Coric had dominated on serve in the first set, firing 11 aces, but now Bedene’s serving shone. He failed to convert a break point in the second game, held to love with three aces and then did break in the next, 4-1.
A lapse in concentration, however, and Bedene gave the break back: a pity, considering he held the next game to love. But another tie-break it would be, and this time a near reversal of the first. Bedene opened up a 6-2 lead, Coric closed to 6-5, before the Briton served it out, 7-6(5).
The tennis continued at a high and punishing level. Coric fought off a break point and four deuces in the first game, Bedene, held to love: 1-1 with 2hrs 20mins on the clock. This time, Bedene did break but, just as in the previous set, Coric broke back with a drop-shot winner.
There was little to choose, now, as both took bold tactic decisions, coming to the net to finish, serving to the lines, giving little away. At 3-3, and just 15 minutes short of three hours, they stood at 106 points apiece. Coric had taken a medical time-out, though he showed no weakness in the tennis—and the slight Bedene looked as fresh as if this was his first match.
The seventh game became a marathon effort, Coric serving for his life and Bedene drawing out long draining rallies through five deuces and four break points. Balls clipped the line, Bedene used up all his challenges, and the young Coric found a brilliant backhand down the line winner to hold after more than 13 minutes.
It was a morale-boosting game for Coric, and that showed in the next game, as he drove his forehand deep and fast to draw three errors for a love break, 5-3. A superb off-backhand winner from Coric brought up three match-points, and moments later, he was into his first ATP final—the youngest finalist since Kei Nishikori in 2008 and the first teenage finalist since Cilic in the same year.
It had taken him just three minutes short of three hours in what was quickly heralded as one of the best matches ever seen in Chennai.
Coric managed a few exhausted words afterwards: “In the second set, I was already struggling, but I have a great box helping me a lot—and the crowd of course. [In the third set] my stomach was very bad, I had too much water in the match, I think, but I hope to be fine tomorrow. Stan is a big favourite, but I will give my best.”
Coric has played Wawrinka twice before, losing in Chennai last year and then taking the Swiss to three tough sets in Cincinnati.
How much he has left for the biggest match of his career so far remains to be seen, but after his efforts in getting there, no-one will doubt that this determined, mature and very talented young player will leave everything on the court.