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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Sunday August 21, 2022

For decades the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati has been the proving ground of the greatest legends of men’s tennis. And it always helped handicap the field heading into the US Open as legends like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray claimed the title.

Tennis Express

2022 had a drastically different feel. Without Federer and Djokovic in the draw, and Nadal and Murray both tapping out before the end of the second round, ample opportunity opened up in the middle of the week and created a mix of lesser-known talents to create momentum ahead of the US Open.

When 2019 champion and US Open defending champion Daniil Medvedev was bounced from the draw in the semis on Saturday, the wide open feel of things became more dramatic. Suddenly even the Russian, a hard court juggernaut, was out – who would step up and claim the prestigious Rockwood Cup?

Enter, Borna Coric.

The World No.152, on the mend from shoulder surgery in 2021, capped his breakthrough week at the Western and Southern Open by defeating fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas, 7-6(0), 6-2 for his maiden Masters 1000 title.

Coric, who becomes the lowest-ranked champion in Cincinnati history, will not have to sweat his ranking anymore this year. He will rise to No.29 in Monday’s rankings, and pick up a seed at the US Open, which begins on August 29.

The former World No.12 has long been a talent on tour, but after a year spent dealing with a difficult shoulder injury, a surgery, and a slower than expected return to fitness, even he was surprised by a title run that saw him take out five of the tournament’s top 15 seeds – No.2 Rafael Nadal, No.15 Roberto Bautista Augut, No.7 Felix Auger-Aliassime, No.9 Cam Norrie and No.4 Tsitsipas.

“I have no words, to be honest,” Coric said. “It's just unbelievable feeling. Like I said many times, I’m just gonna enjoy this. I thought I could play well. I was training hard, and I knew I could play good tennis, but that I could play this level of tennis – I was just not aware.”

Coric was stymied in the early going by Tsitsipas, who was bidding for his second Masters 1000 title of the season, and riding confidence after taking out No.1-seeded Medvedev in a thrilling semifinal on Saturday, but the 25-year-old Croatian dug in and gradually seized the momentum at the end of the opening set by playing a perfect tiebreak.

Coric saved a trio of break points in the first game of the second set, then saw three of his own go begging with Tsitsipas serving at 1-2.

He wouldn’t have to wait much longer for his next opportunity, however. He would cash in on his third opportunity two games later, converting for 4-2 in the second set.

After pushing through a three-deuce game to hold for 5-2, while skies above the Lindner Family Tennis Center threatened to spit rain, Coric was able to end festivities with a second consecutive break, converting his second match point to lock up his third ATP title.

Coric said he made a decision early in the opening set to be more aggressive, and it made the difference.

“I think I just realized that I need to be more aggressive,” he said. “I think I came into the match with the mindset of he's gonna miss. You know, he's unbelievable player, and he's not gonna miss on my solid balls, you know.

“So I just decided… I said to myself, ‘I have nothing to lose. If I continue like this, I'm going to lose anyway, for sure.’ Because he's also playing very, very good. He was putting the pressure on me. He was taking the ball super early. I was under lots of pressure.”

Tsitsipas, meanwhile, couldn’t quite explain his lack of intensity and relative flatness over the second half of the match.

“I guess I was too relaxed to lose,” he said. “It cost me.”

There were times in the second set when Tsitsipas didn’t seem to be defending with his typical tenacity.

“He was obviously the opposite of what I was, very much involved,” he explained. “Sometimes it makes you not be that much present in the moment when you're too relaxed. It takes away that momentum that you are trying to capture.

“I think he was serving well. He was making me move a lot. But, yeah, I could have used my chances in the first set. I don't know why I didn't. I rushed a little bit. He had a few good returns, and it cost me because that first set could have been very life-changing.

Though deflated the Greek will be one of the many players heading to the US Open with a good chance at making a deep run. Coric will be there as well, ready to prove his recent heroics were not a fluke, but proof that he has indeed rediscovered his health and his talent.

Let the games begin...


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