Young stars Coric and Zverev sweep Murray and Berdych aside to reach Madrid Masters quarter-finals
Borna Coric and Alexander Zverev are through to the quarter-finals of the Madrid Masters after beating Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych
It would be easy to focus on the handful of lost seeds from the men’s draw this week at the Mutua Madrid Open.
Few, for example, expected former French Open champion Stan Wawrinka to lose to unseeded Benoit Paire. And perhaps most did not envisage the struggling David Ferrer coming back from a set down in his first match and then sailing into the third round courtesy of a walk-over from Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
The veteran Spaniard, who contended with injury for so much of last year, could not hold off No6 seed Kei Nishikori, however, while Paire was beaten to the quarters by another unseeded man, Pablo Cuevas.
But the whys and wherefores of two unseeded players who hoped to carve themselves a quarter-final place on this stormy Thursday painted a far from gloomy picture.
Both 20 years old, Borna Coric and Alexander Zverev topped the #NextGen rankings, and with good reason: Both arrived in Madrid with clay titles under their belts.
Last summer Coric even notched up a win over Rafael Nadal in Cincinnati to become the youngest Masters quarter-finalist since Novak Djokovic in 2006, but then he missed the rest of the year to undergo knee surgery.
Less than a month ago, he became the ATP’s Mover of the Week after winning his first title. He beat three top-40 players, including Philipp Kohlschreiber in the final, to lift the Marrakech trophy, and that catapulted him 30 places up the rankings and back into the top 50 more than a year after reaching his first two finals in Chennai and Marrakech.
Now, after an early disappointment in Madrid qualifying, he picked up a lucky loser ticket, and made the most of it by reaching the third round. However, his task was about to get altogether tougher as he faced top seed Andy Murray.
But while Coric may have been the first teenager to break the top 50 last year, he was swiftly followed, and then swiftly overtaken, by the leader in the Race to Milan, Zverev.
The tall, rangy German made an impression very early, but his physical maturity was a slower burn than that of Coric. With confidence beyond his years, however, he made the tennis tour sit up and take notice when, still age just 18, he held match point against Nadal in Indian Wells last year, only to net an easy smash.
It was on the clay last spring and summer, however, that he made his move into the top 50—semis in Munich, the Nice final, and then the final on Halle’s grass, too—beating Roger Federer in the process. His all-court power game transferred to the hard and indoor courts, too—semis in Washington and his first title in St Petersburg, beating the likes of Tomas Berdych and Wawrinka along the way.
Now inside the top 20, he arrived in Madrid with two titles this year, in Montpellier and, just last week, in Munich. With wins over Fernando Verdasco and No7 seed Marin Cilic here already, he was about to take on Berdych in his seventh match in nine days, and as his late-night victory on Wednesday lasted more than two and a half hours, it would be a big ask indeed for the young German. He afterwards admitted that he had not got to bed until 3am.
He had met Berdych five times before, four times this year, and had lost to the big Czech four times. But Zverev had come out the winner in St Petersburg, and was clearly on a fine run of form this week.
He got the early advantage, the only break in the first set, to lead 6-4, and raced ahead in the second set too, but the old campaigner Berdych fought back to break and level, 4-4. However, he then gave up an immediate break back, smashed his racket in disgust, and gave Zverev the chance to serve for the match.
Such is the confidence of this young player that he did not hesitate: Not just a love hold but a brilliant drop shot on match-point. It took him, 6-4, into his second Masters quarter-final, and the chance to play Cuevas. The will make a Masters semi for the first time.
But what of Coric and his mountain of a task against Murray? Well in fairness to the young Croat, he had scored one win over the Briton a couple of years ago in Dubai.
It started well enough for Murray, a love hold, but Coric served well, too. However, Murray passed up the chance of two break points in the third game with what would become a recurring pattern in this match, two forehands long. And in the very next game, another forehand error followed by a backhand error gave the break to Coric.
In more typical form, Murray immediately broke back—to love—for 3-3, but extraordinarily, Coric broke again from deuce, held for 5-3, and went 0-40 up as Murray double faulted and twice netted a forehand. A final netted backhand, and Coric had break and set, 6-3—plus the advantage of serving first in the second set.
The early stages were edgy, as both saved break points on the way to 3-3. But the flat and inconsistent play of Murray continued to bewilder his fans and, it seemed, himself, as he smiled in disbelief at his box. Coric broke to love without having to do anything exceptional, and then served out a famous win with a cute drop shot, 6-3.
So the Madrid Masters is guaranteed to showcase two 20-year-olds, the youngest in the draw—both unseeded and one of them a lucky loser—in its quarter-finals. Zverev is already looking at a new career-high of 17, and Coric will likely climb another 18 spots to close in on his own career high too, which hit 33 a full two years ago.
Both young men are assured and articulate with the media, especially given they are not speaking in their native languages. Coric commented:
“It’s a huge win, for sure. It’s going to mean a lot. The confidence does play I would say a very big role in my tennis. Also it’s going to help me in my ranking. It’s always easier when you’te a little bit higher. I can play now a little bit more, let’s say, free. I don’t need to defend many points. I can only earn points.”
Murray was at a loss for why he had performed so poorly:
“I didn’t help myself find a way into the match to start playing better. That was disappointing because you’re not always going to play your best tennis, but you can still find ways to make it difficult for your opponent, and I didn’t do that at all today.”
But while top seed Murray, who turns 30 this month, is out of contention, the No2 and defending champion Djokovic, also 30 this month, continued his progress to the quarters via Feliciano Lopez, 6-4, 7-5. Also in this half, No9 seed David Goffin got the better of the No5 Milos Raonic, 6-4, 6-2, in just 74 minutes.
But it seems right to leave the closing words to one of the ‘coming’ men, Zverev. Asked about his prospects now that the draw had been purged of big seeds Murray, Wawrinka and Berdych, he put it thus:
“Well, look, there’s a reason why other guys are beating the top players: because other guys are playing great tennis. That shows that many of the big names have left our half of the draw.
“Borna played great today. Stan lost yesterday to Benoit, who is playing great. Obviously, I feel quite well on court, as well. I won last week. This week I had a few very big matches. I feel quite comfortable on court.”
Perhaps, after a long, long wait, the ‘other guys’ are ready to roll.