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Australian Open

Borna Coric And The Happy Shadow Of Alexander Zverev

Matt Zemek

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Geoff Burke -- USA TODAY Sports

I am not going to eviscerate Borna Coric. Criticize him? Yes… but not tear him apart. The story I am about to tell is more complicated than any simple, knee-jerk response.

Borna Coric was a good bit better than Lucas Pouille in 2018. I have given Pouille’s new coach, Amelie Mauresmo, due credit for what she has done with her new employer.¬†However, Coric’s run to the Shanghai final and his repeated wins over rising peers such as Daniil Medvedev — whom he defeated at the U.S. Open and Bercy — put his game on a much more elevated floor than Pouille. Coric bothered Roger Federer repeatedly in 2018, winning multiple times against the Swiss. Pouille wasn’t doing anything close to that last season.

This should have been Coric’s match if measured by player development and evolution. Even though Mauresmo has certainly given Pouille, an immensely talented player, a new understanding of how to play, coach-player relationships generally shouldn’t be expected to bear that much fruit that quickly. Coric stood on more solid ground entering this match. Not winning it is a genuine disappointment.

This isn’t a terrible loss for Coric, but it is also not a loss one can easily brush off or blithely ignore. What is the biggest product of this loss for Borna? He has still never made a major quarterfinal. He is not an old man, but at 22, he is not necessarily in the “young pup” class. He is at a stage when he needs to begin to make quarterfinals and play the top dogs at majors. Getting stuck in third and fourth rounds won’t enable him to take the next steps in his career progression. Coric badly needs a quarterfinal at Roland Garros, because Wimbledon isn’t likely to be a place where his playing style will thrive. (I know he won Halle, but everyone knows Halle grass is different from Wimbledon grass.)

You get the point — this was not the best result for Coric. Here is the bigger point about this loss: Where is the outrage?

I’m not saying outrage SHOULD visit this result, but can we pause and step back for a moment, and realize that Coric, at 22, has zero Masters titles, one Masters final, and no major quarterfinals?

Another man who lost in the fourth round of the Australian Open is Alexander Zverev. He has won three Masters titles, made other Masters finals, and at least has one major quarterfinal, plus his ATP Finals championship last November.

Compare the level of anger directed at Zverev with the displeasure publicly thrown in Coric’s direction after their twin fourth-round losses. Zverev moves the anger needle a million times more than Coric does — it’s not remotely close. Yet, Zverev is still 21, several months younger than Coric.

As I said at the beginning of this piece, I’m not here to bury Coric. Given where he is at 22, he does need to begin to make greater improvements at the majors and over the course of a full season, but his career is hardly in a state of crisis. He is still learning on the job. This loss to Pouille is nothing close to a disaster. It stings — and it should — but it’s not a five-alarm fire.

All I want to convey is: Why does Alexander Zverev get pilloried for his failures when, at 21, he is far ahead of Coric, and Daniil Medvedev, and so many other age-group peers?

I know the answer intellectually: Zverev sets such a high standard at the Masters events and the ATP Finals that his major-tournament failures feel like crushing disappointments and profound puzzles. I get it.

Yet, emotionally, can we realize that by destroying Zverev in the court of public opinion while letting Coric go unnoticed, a double standard is being set.

The point is not so much that we need to criticize Coric more at age 22; it’s that we need to criticize Zverev a lot less at 21.

That is a Zvery important lesson to take away from Coric’s loss to Lucas Pouille.

 

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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