Croatian talks with ATPTour.com about the ‘Last Time’
Since playing in the 2017 Next Gen ATP Finals, Borna Coric has only climbed the ATP Rankings. He started 2018 at No. 48 but finished the season at No. 12. Where will he finish 2019?
Coric, who faces countryman Ivo Karlovic on Saturday at the BNP Paribas Open, sat down with ATPTour.com to talk about his tennis racquet stringing skills (nonexistent), how good of a cook he is (OK) and why he couldn’t wait to meet Mike Tyson (respect).
I missed a flight? When I was coming to Toronto [in July], I missed a flight from Frankfurt to Toronto and I needed to stay there for one night… Our flight from Zagreb to Frankfurt was delayed for two and a half hours, and this flight was right after two hours, so we just couldn’t make it.
I lost something important? I need to ask my coach. I have a pretty big team, and they always follow me around so they pick up things that I lose, which is a lot.
But I really take care of my things, which are very important. I lose many non-important things, maybe T-shirts or sweatbands or something. But important stuff I don’t lose.
Read more in the ‘Last Time’ series: Federer | Kyrgios | Tsitsipas
I paid money to rent a tennis court or buy tennis balls? Ten years ago, when I was 12 years old and I was still playing in my hometown and we needed to pay for the courts… It was a national tennis centre in Zagreb… It was maybe 10€.
I strung a tennis racquet? Never.
I cooked for myself and others? I don’t cook often. I do cook sometimes, like eggs for breakfast. But that’s the only thing that I know how to cook, to be honest, and some pasta. Last time was probably when I was in Monte-Carlo, when I was practising in February. I was practising there for like seven days, I was there by myself in this one apartment so I needed to cook in the morning.
They were OK. I do alright eggs, scrambled. It’s not tough, obviously, but I do alright. I just put a little prosciutto on it, and that’s it.
I met a childhood idol? Indian Wells 2016, Mike Tyson… [As a kid] I was watching his fights and I just find him very entertaining, I loved the way he was fighting. It was really cool. I always wanted to meet him.
Top seed and five-time champion Novak Djokovic kicks off his Indian Wells campaign
Three years ago, Novak Djokovic was pushed to the brink by an unseeded American named Bjorn Fratangelo at the BNP Paribas Open. On Saturday, they meet again on the same stage.
Fratangelo will seek revenge as they open the night session on Stadium 1, exactly three years following Djokovic’s 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 comeback win in the 2016 second round. The top-seeded Serbian is bidding for a record sixth Indian Wells crown and to extend his stranglehold atop the ATP Rankings.
Last year in Indian Wells, Djokovic lost his opener to 109th-ranked qualifier Taro Daniel. What a difference a year makes. He returns as the World No. 1 and champion of the past three Grand Slam tournaments and two of the last three ATP Masters 1000 events. Djokovic has not played since winning his seventh Australian Open title on 27 January.
Kicking off the action on Stadium 1 is a tantalising #NextGenATP clash between Stefanos Tsitsipas and Felix Auger-Aliassime. In what could be a prelude to the Next Gen ATP Finals in November, they will meet for the first time in their professional careers. The Canadian took all three junior encounters, including a semi-final meeting at the 2016 US Open.
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Auger-Aliassime is one of four teens in the draw, along with countryman Denis Shapovalov, Alexei Popyrin and lucky loser Miomir Kecmanovic. Kecmanovic received the last minute entry when Kevin Anderson withdrew due to an elbow injury and will open against Maximilian Marterer on Stadium 5.
Meanwhile, recent ATP 500 champions Gael Monfils (Rotterdam), Laslo Djere (Rio de Janeiro) and Nick Kyrgios (Acapulco) will all commence their campaigns. Monfils, a quarter-finalist in 2016, opens against Leonardo Mayer, while Djere will appear in his second Masters 1000 main draw after capturing the attention of the ATP Tour in Rio. And Kyrgios looks to extend his win streak when he faces Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Also in action are third seed Alexander Zverev and seventh seed Dominic Thiem. The German is making his fourth main draw appearance in Indian Wells and is in search of a fourth different Masters 1000 shield. He opens against Martin Klizan. Thiem kicks off his bid against Jordan Thompson in the night session on Stadium 2.
Also, American qualifier Marcos Giron looks to continue his Cinderella run in his ATP Masters 1000 debut when he faces Alex de Minaur. It will be the first match on Stadium at 11am. Giron, a Southern California native and former UCLA standout, is meeting the #NextGenATP Aussie for the first time. One year ago, De Minaur scored his first Masters 1000 match win in a deciding tie-break (d. Struff).
Frenchmen kick off quest for second Indian Wells crown
Top seeds Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut were made to work in their opener at the BNP Paribas Open on Friday. The Frenchmen rallied past home hopes John Isner and Sam Querrey 6-7(3), 6-4, 12-10, saving one match point.
With their backs against the wall, the 2016 champions saved a match point at 10/9 in the Match Tie-break, reeling off three straight points to prevail after one hour and 35 minutes. Herbert and Mahut are coming off a 13th team title at the Australian Open, where they also completed the Career Grand Slam together.
In other action, Nick Kyrgios and Taylor Fritz enjoyed their first taste of victory as a team on Friday, surging into the second round in Indian Wells. The wild card tandem bounced Steve Johnson and Dominic Thiem 7-5, 6-1 in just 67 minutes, firing four aces and converting six of 12 break chances. Kyrgios and Fritz are competing together for the second time, following a first-round exit at the 2018 Brisbane International.
The Aussie-American duo will next face sixth seeds Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo, after the Polish-Brazilian team rallied past Wesley Koolhof and Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-7(1), 7-6(1), 10-5. Runners-up in 2017, Kubot and Melo are looking to add Indian Wells to their growing ATP Masters 1000 trophy case, which also includes Miami, Madrid, Shanghai and Paris.
Also moving on in the desert are fifth seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah. The Colombian team overcame German brothers Alexander Zverev and Mischa Zverev 5-7, 6-3, 10-5. And Michael Venus and Raven Klaasen set a second-round date with Ben McLachlan and Jan-Lennard Struff. Klaasen won the Indian Wells title in 2017 alongside Rajeev Ram.
Photo: Kontinen/Peers (Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour)
Henri Kontinen and John Peers kicked off their quest for a fourth Masters 1000 title and first in the California desert. They defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili and Artem Sitak 6-1, 6-4 in an efficient 51 minutes. The Finnish-Aussie duo owns Masters 1000 shields in each of the past three seasons (Paris 2016, Shanghai 2017 and Toronto 2018).
The BNP Paribas Open is known for its unusual doubles pairings and Friday featured yet another, as Novak Djokovic and Fabio Fognini joined Kyrgios and Fritz in the winners’ circle. The Serbian-Italian tandem defeated Jeremy Chardy and Milos Raonic 7-6(5), 6-1. They could face second seeds Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares next.
#NextGenATP Aussie earned first ATP Masters 1000 win at Indian Wells
On 20 January 2008, Lleyton Hewitt defeated Marcos Baghdatis in a five-set marathon at the Australian Open that ended at 4:33 a.m. That clash remains the latest finish to a match in history.
In the crowd that early morning inside Rod Laver Arena was eight-year-old Alexei Popyrin. The youngster couldn’t make it to the fifth set, nearly falling asleep before getting taken home by his parents.
Eleven years later, Popyrin was the one on a big stage at the year’s first major. The #NextGenATP Aussie entered the tournament with just one tour-level win to his name.
But after defeating veteran Mischa Zverev and Top 10 staple Dominic Thiem, he had the full force of the Margaret Court Arena crowd behind him as he recovered from a two-set deficit to force a decider against eventual semi-finalist Lucas Pouille. The 19-year-old was unable to complete the comeback, but it became clear that Popyrin is not afraid of competing under the spotlight.
“It was fantastic for him to get the win at the Australian Open in the first round against Mischa Zverev. But it was how he wasn’t completely happy with that: he wanted to keep going,” said Hewitt. “Against Dominic Thiem on Melbourne Arena, which is one of the biggest courts at the Australian Open, for him to go out and play like he did was impressive. That’s now the belief that he can have, that he can match up with these guys, so that’s where he’s going to grow as a player.”
“It gives me more confidence to say that I can play with these players,” Popyrin said. “It definitely motivates me to keep working. Not that I need much motivation to keep working, but I’ve still got goals that I need to achieve.”
His confidence has been on display all week at the BNP Paribas Open. Popyrin qualified for his first ATP Masters 1000 main draw, and on Friday, he picked up his first win at the level, beating 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals semi-finalist Jaume Munar of Spain in straight sets.
“It definitely means a lot. Growing up watching these tournaments on TV, just to get my first Masters 1000 win is a great achievement for me,” Popyrin told ATPTour.com.
Popyrin’s rise has been sudden. This time last year, he was World No. 553, and he had played just four matches on the ATP Challenger Tour, losing them all. In August, he won his first title at that level.
Then, in October, he qualified for an ATP Tour event for the first time in Stockholm and claimed his maiden tour-level victory against Matthew Ebden in Basel, before challenging reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev in the second round.
Popyrin says that all of those moments last year helped him build more and more confidence so that he was ready for his moment in Melbourne and his breakthrough in Indian Wells. After his Melbourne run, the 19-year-old was being recognised on the street at home.
“Once I went out with a couple friends to dinner, and after dinner I had a few people stop me and take pictures with them on the street,” Popyrin said. “That was all a new experience for me. I liked it.”
“It was a pretty important experience for Alexei to have,” Rohan Williams, Popyrin’s coach, said of his pupil’s Australian Open run. “The match against Pouille on a Saturday night and playing in front of that crowd, the home crowd, is a pretty special feeling. Having a special moment like that is one thing, but he’s got 12, 15 years hopefully in tennis so as a step in his development, this is an important thing, to learn how to play on big stages, if he wants to get where he’s going.”
Popyrin reached a career-best No. 123 in the ATP Rankings last month. His immediate goal is to crack the Top 100. Another target is qualifying for the Next Gen ATP Finals, for which the Top 7 21-and-under players automatically qualify. In 2018, Popyrin finished 17th in the ATP Race To Milan.
“Hopefully this year I can really step it up and hopefully I can compete there,” Popyrin said.
In the first two years of the Next Gen ATP Finals, qualifiers have gone on to enjoy significant success. Six of the Top 30 players in the ATP Rankings have competed in Milan.
“I look at them and I get some inspiration. They went through this period that I’m in now fairly quickly. They jumped to the Top 100, Top 75, Top 50 and now they’re close to breaking into the Top 10, so I definitely look at them and I see their game,” Popyrin said. “They’re great tennis players, and I don’t see my game far off from their game. I think I’ve got the same level. Of course they’ve got a higher [ATP] Ranking, but [I think I have] the capability. I believe in myself.”
The Aussie’s dream is to become World No. 1 and lift multiple Grand Slam trophies. Only time will tell what is in store for the speaker of three languages (English, Russian and Spanish), but his weapons are clear: a big serve and a ferocious forehand. Popyrin says that more than anything, however, people should know that no matter whether those shots paint the lines or sail out, everything he has goes into being ready for the moment.
“I am hard-working. I give my all every time I step on the court,” Popyrin said. “It may not look like on court I give much effort with my shots and game style, but definitely outside the court with my recovery, my warm-ups and everything, I’m 100 per cent professional.”
At the New York Open last month, Popyrin played doubles with Hewitt. The former World No.1 has mentored the teenager since they met in 2017.
“He’s definitely someone who I look up to,” Popyrin said. “He’s one of the greats of the sport, of Aussie tennis also. It’s great to have Lleyton in my corner.”
Eleven years ago, when Hewitt was battling Baghdatis deep into the Melbourne morning, Popyrin was just another kid in the crowd. And now, not only is he rapidly improving on the ATP Tour, but he is being mentored by the legend who he was watching as a boy.
“It’s amazing,” Popyrin said. “Just to be on the same court with him and on the same team is a dream come true.”
BNP Paribas Open Honoured For Fifth Straight Year In ATP Awards
Indian Wells tennis tournament continues reign in Masters 1000 category
The BNP Paribas Open has been voted as the ATP Masters 1000 Tournament of the Year for five straight seasons, and on Friday afternoon, celebrated its distinction in the 2018 ATP Awards with fans at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
ATP Executive Chairman and President Chris Kermode presented Tournament Director Tommy Haas with the trophy ahead of the first-round match between Steve Johnson and Taylor Fritz on Stadium 1.
“We are honoured and humbled that for the fifth straight year, our event has been recognised by the players as Tournament of the Year,” said Haas. “Our entire staff works incredibly hard to deliver a world-class experience.”
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In 2018, the BNP Paribas Open unveiled a brand-new “Full Bloom” marketing campaign that highlighted the world-class venue and players set amidst the stunning natural beauty and backdrop of the desert landscape. In parallel, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden underwent a beautification project to further amplify the feeling of Tennis Paradise. Inside Stadium 1, video walls were replaced and upgraded to complement the action on court. BNP Paribas extended its title sponsorship of the tournament through 2023.
The tournament awards, voted annually by ATP players, recognise the leading standards set across events on the ATP Tour. The Fever-Tree Championships and Intrum Stockholm Open have been named Tournament of the Year respectively in the 500 and 250 categories and will receive their trophies later this season.