After securing his #1 ranking, for the time being at least, and equalling his best ever start to a season, Roger Federer faces another intriguing match up against a young gun. Next up to face the daunting challenge of the 20-time Major champion is Borna Coric of Croatia. The 21-year-old is a former junior #1 and doesn’t lack confidence. He has also taken some impressive scalps in the past. But who will come out on top in this one?
Federer and Coric have met just once previously. That match was three years ago in Dubai in the semifinals. Coric was fresh from having destroyed third seeded Andy Murray for the loss of just four games, but was brought crashing back down to earth by Federer. On the ultra-fast courts in Dubai the defensive minded Croatian couldn’t live with Federer’s attacking tennis. The Swiss brushed him aside 6-1 6-2 and went onto defeat Djokovic to lift the title.
Path to the semifinals
Federer began his Indian Wells campaign in the second round after receiving a first round bye. There he faced Federico Delbonis, who had won their only previous match five years ago. But there was a rather different outcome in Indian Wells. Despite having to save a set point in the second set tiebreak, Federer never looked in danger of defeat as he won 6-2 7-6. He then dismissed Serbia’s Filip Krajinovic, last year a finalist in Bercy, 6-2 6-1.
Jeremy Chardy, his fourth round opponent, did his best to give Federer a test, and by and large he succeeded, although like Delbonis he never looked like winning. A late break in both sets gave Federer the win as he advance 7-5 6-4 to face Hyeon Chung. Much was expected of that match due to the Korean’s impressive form. Early on it lived up to those expectations as the Korean met Federer blow for blow. But a break late in the first effectively settled it and Chung won just one more game.
Coric, unseeded, began his tournament against Donald Young, who he dismantled, winning 6-0 6-2 to heap further misery on the American after a troubled season so far. He was as dominant against his next two opponents, the Spaniards Albert Ramos Vinolas and Roberto Bautista Agut, who he defeated 6-0 6-3 and 6-1 6-3 respectively. He began strongly against Taylor Fritz, winning the first set 6-2 but was forced to survive a fightback by the Californian to win in three.
That set up a quarterfinal clash with Kevin Anderson, who had won their previous three meetings. When Coric went down an early break their latest encounter looked to be heading in a similar direction. The first set went the way of the South African, but Coric dug in to level proceedings. When Anderson went a break up in the decider Coric’s chances looked to be fading. But the world #9 tightened up and Coric took advantage to break back before winning the match in a tiebreak.
How do they match up?
Not unlike in his quarterfinal, this match will be about whether or not Federer can hit through his opponent’s defence. Fortunately for the Swiss, there are few players more adept at getting past an opponent, no matter how well they cover the court. That being said, Chung was able to give Federer real problems with his movement and depth even when on the stretch. That was the blueprint Djokovic used to defeat Federer 23 times.
Federer likes to take the ball early and uses his ability to do so to keep his opponents off-balance and deny them time to recover. But if, as Chung was able to do in the first set, his opponents can get the ball back deep and with pace the Swiss can make errors. Coric, an excellent mover with a similar skill set to Chung, has the ability to do just that. Where Chung was undone was in that after losing the first set, he lacked the belief to get back into the contest.
A fast start then, will be critical for Coric in this match. Though the world #49 has never been short of belief, it would none-the-less be unwise to let Federer establish a lead as there are few better frontrunners. He must also seek to play on the front foot whenever he is able to do. As well as he defends, there is no player on the planet who can withstand the Federer attack if it is given free reign. But land some heavy blows of his own early on and he could shake the world’s best player.
Federer got the better of Hyeon Chung in the previous round and the Korean is arguably a superior version of Coric at this stage in their careers. For that reason, it’s hard to see any outcome other than a Federer victory. That being said, Coric will likely push Federer harder than the Korean who seemed to rather duck the fight in the second set. Coric, with his seemingly limitless well of self-belief, won’t do the same. But he also won’t be able to stop Federer reaching another final, in straight sets.
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