In a battle of the young guns, Borna Coric of Croatia takes on local boy Taylor Fritz. Coric, the senior of the two by about a year, is enjoying something of a resurgence after a difficult period on Tour that saw him fall from his career high ranking of #33 to outside the top 50. Fritz, has struggled to replicate his early successes that saw him reach the final in Memphis whilst still a teenager, but is forging a steady path upwards. But will it be Masters 1000 quarterfinal number three for Coric or a debut for Fritz?
Coric and Fritz have met just once so far in their careers, although there will surely be many more encounters to come. That first meeting came two years ago on the clay courts of Roland Garros in the first round. It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a comfortable victory for Coric. Whilst most Europeans grow up playing principally on clay, it generally takes Americans longer to come to terms with the surface and the then-18-year-old Fritz was outclassed by Coric who won 6-3 6-1 6-3.
Path to the fourth round
With neither man seeded, both began in the first round. For Coric that meant his tournament started against American Donald Young. Young was recently involved in controversy after accusing Ryan Harrison of racially abusing him only for an inquiry to clear Harrison’s name. He has won just one match since then and was brushed aside with ease by Coric who lost just two games in a 6-0 6-2 rout to advance to the second round.
Coric won in similarly dominant fashion in the second round against last year’s Monte Carlo finalist Albert Ramos Vinolas. The Croatian won the first set to love and dropped just three games in the second as he moved into the third round in Indian Wells for the second time. There he had his revenge on Roberto Bautista Agut who defeated him en route to the Dubai title two weeks ago. Coric was again hugely impressive, brushing aside the Spaniard 6-1 6-3.
Fritz began his Indian Wells campaign with a hard fought win over his giant compatriot Reilly Opelka, winning a second set tiebreak to stay alive before a single break in his favour sealed the decider. He then defeated 27th seed Andrey Rublev in a closely contested second round match, with Fritz coming through a 6-4 7-6 victor. He again recovered from a set down to defeat former world #7 Fernando Verdasco, improving his impressive final set tiebreak record in the process as he won 4-6 6-2 7-6.
How do they match up?
Both men are fine baseliners possessing solid ground strokes. Fritz has a more complete game than many of his compatriots, with the solid backhand that too many American players lack. His forehand is the most potent weapon he possesses and he used it to good effect against Fernando Verdasco in the round of 32. He will need to do so again against Borna Coric who is already one of the better movers on Tour.
Coric has compared himself to both Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic and the Croatian arguably has a point. His movement, as mentioned above, is terrific and his backhand down the line is certainly not unlike Djokovic’s. However, what separates him from such illustrious names, is his lack of firepower. Whilst he can defend superbly, Coric lacks their ability to seize control of a rally and to dictate to opponents with the same regularity. If he can add that to his game he could become a real contender.
Both players venture forward from the baseline comparatively rarely. However, considering both men’s impressive defensive skills it will likely be profitable to both to move into the forecourt as often as possible to finish off points quickly. That will surely be particularly important for Fritz, who is unlikely to come out on top in enough baseline exchanges with Coric to reach the quarterfinals. He has also endured a significantly more arduous route so far, and fitness could become a factor.
Whilst Fritz has impressed so far and can be proud of his efforts, Coric will prove too much for him. The Croatian has been in terrific form so far this tournament and has destroyed the three men he has faced already. Fritz, in confident mood himself and with the backing of the crowd, won’t prove such an easy opponent. But Coric should still have enough, particularly if the match becomes a baseline battle, to progress.
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