Qualifier Auger-Aliassime into Miami semis (video)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The dissection of the Miami Open men’s singles draw by the Canadian twin terrors continued Thursday night.

Your move, Denis Shapovalov.

(No pressure, kid. 😂)

Félix Auger-Aliassime, all of 18 and out of the qualifying, knocked off another seeded player in No. 11 Borna Coric, to become the youngest semifinalist in Miami Open history.

The 7-6 (3), 6-2 victory was a tight tussle in the first set.

And in the second, the far more experienced Coric (still just 22, doesn’t it feel as though he’s been around a decade?) just … capitulated.

He began spraying errors everywhere after the Canadian broke him to open the set. 

And the Croat never remotely looked as though he might offer resistance. Given the fact that he had an inexperienced 18-year-old across the net, and a Masters 1000 semifinal at stake, it was a little shocking.

But a lot of that had to do with Auger-Aliassime, who had an answer for every Coric question.

“I was a bit surprised. The points went quickly. He was missing early, which is not his habit. Normally, you’re used to seeing rallies more like we saw in the first set,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I don’t know, he looked a little out of rhythm. So yes, I was a bit surprised that I won the second set so easily. But then, the way I was serving, the way I was putting pressure on him, it made sense, too.”

Big game at 4-5

Auger-Aliassime had all the chances in the first set, at 4-5, to break Coric and start serving the second.

Seven deuces from a 40-15 Coric lead, and one set point, went by before the Croat held after 11 minutes, 31 seconds.

It took Auger-Aliassime more than 22 minutes to get his second set point in the tiebreak. And that one, he converted.

“It was a bit frustrating to lose that 5-4 game. But the best chance for me to win the first set, to give myself a chance, was to find ways when my back was to the wall to win the important points. That’s what I tried to do, and once again it worked,” he said. “There are nerves, there is stress. But it’s about how you manage it. For me, it’s about concentrating on the game, on the strategy – and to serve well.”

Second set a rout


At one point, early in the second set, Coric had one winner and … 12 unforced errors. He didn’t get on the board until he was down two breaks at 0-4.

He wasn’t just missing by inches, although he did barely miss a couple of passing shots. He was missing by feet. He would try a serve-and-volley without much conviction. By the end, some in the notoriously tough Miami crowd were whistling.

At times, he looks sheepish, as if it couldn’t end soon enough. Auger-Aliassime’s confidence – with the first set already in the bag – only grew. So he did what he needed to do end Coric’s suffering as quickly as he could.

“It’s rarely happened that I’ve won so many matches in a row – especially at this level. But I don’t think I was playing above my level. I think I was playing very good tennis, but I don’t think I was playing above myself at any moment in the match,” he said.

Positive vibes to Shapovalov

Shapovalov makes it two in the quarters (video)

Auger-Aliassime’s good friend Shapovalov will try to join him in the final four when he plays another young up-and-comer, No. 28 seed Frances Tiafoe, Friday afternoon.

“I’ll probably run into him (Thursday). Already, seeing me win today, that’ll motivate him as well to go further and win the match,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I hope I can motivate him in some way. But beyond that, it’ll be up to him to get the job done on the court.”

Auger-Aliassime’s parents, Marie Auger and Sam Aliassime, will fly down for Friday’s semifinal against big-serving American John Isner.

“I don’t quite realize it, but I’m trying not to get too emotional about it because there are still matches to play,” he said of his effort this week.  

Having his parents on hand will be less intimidating than having NBA legend Chris Bosh in the house.“It’s pretty special to play in front of people like that. I was a little nervous at the beginning,” Auger-Aliassime said.

Zooming up the rankings chart

The 18-year-old began the season ranked No. 108. After reaching the final at the ATP 500 event in Rio last month, he zoomed up to No. 60.

He’s currently at No. 57. But with his efforts the last 10 days in Miami, he’ll be at No. 33 when the new rankings come out on Monday, even if he goes no further.

In that theoretical race for one of the 32 seeded spots at the next Grand Slam, which will be the French Open in late May, Auger-Aliassime is one point out of the No. 32 spot.

As it happens, that No. 32 is Serbia’s Laslo Djere, who defeated him in the Rio final and again in the quarterfinals in Sao Paulo a few days later.

A perfect 5-0 vs. the top 20

1st top-10 win in 1st try for Auger-Aliassime

As if he were ready for his closeup years ago, the Canadian kid has seized every opportunity against the top players so far in his young career.

Auger-Aliassime defeated No. 18 Lucas Pouille at the Rogers Cup in Toronto last summer. In Rio, he upset No. 16 Fabio Fognini of Italy in the first round.

At Indian Wells, he rolled over No. 10 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the second round.

And this week in Miami, he already has victories over No. 19 Nikoloz Basilashvili in the fourth round, and Coric (currently No. 13) in the quarterfinals.

That’s 5-0 against top-20 players.

Isner, at No. 9, will be the highest-ranked player Auger-Aliassime has ever faced. And he will be only the second “big server”, after Ivo Karlovic defeated him 6-4, 7-5 in the first round of the ATP event in Pune, India to open the season.

Decisions loom for French captain Noah

One of the best doubles teams on the planet staved off elimination for France in the Davis Cup final Saturday.

And now, captain Yannick Noah must make the toughest decisions of his tenure, in the final tie of his tenure.

Who to play on Sunday, as France tries to defend its title against a Croatian team that boasts two singles players ranked in the top 12 in the world?

The notable depth the French boast is being sorely stretched in this final. As many players as they have, the cupboard even seems almost bare.

And Noah’s selections – which ultimately have come down to his personal preferences – will be second-guessed for the ages if France can’t pull off a comeback in this final “true” Davis Cup final.

Mahut-Herbert get the job done

Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert came within a point of winning the ATP Tour Finals in London a week ago.

And despite the quick transition to the red clay, and a few nervy moments, they kept their nation alive.

NoahThe duo defeated the occasional team of Mate Pavic and Ivan Dodig 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (3) to give France its first point.

France remains down 1-2 after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (against Marin Cilic) and Jérémy Chardy (against Borna Coric) failed to even earn a set on Friday. Actually, they failed to even convert a break point.

Saturday was a bucket-list moment for Mahut, 37 in January. He’s 4-0 in doubles this year after being left off the (then) four-man squad for the final a year ago against Belgium.

The French team was favored going in. And even with a hiccup on the third set, and the failure to capitalize on a golden opportunity at 4-5, 0-40 on Pavic’s serve in the fourth as the crowd began to get involved, they stood firm.

But on Sunday, there remains no margin for error.

Tsonga? Chardy? Pouille? Herbert?

It’s a good group. But it’s not a great group. Hence the uphill battle vs. Croatia.

Interviewed on court after the match, Noah said there might be changes. He was going to speak to the team doctor, he said, because Tsonga was “slightly injured” when he played on Friday.

Choosing the 33-year-old for this final, despite his 11-4 career Davis Cup record on clay, was a crapshoot from the get-go.

In last year’s final, Tsonga lost to David Goffin. In the 2016 quarterfinal against the Czech Republic, he lost in five sets to Lukas Rosol after leading two sets to one. But mostly, he was rusty and likely not in tip-top form. Even during the week, there was reporting that he was favoring an injury.

Tsonga hadn’t played a five-set match since beating Canadian teen Denis Shapovalov at the Australian Open in January. And since then, he had been off seven months and had knee surgery. Since his return, he is 1-4 on the ATP Tour.

As well, his last match on clay was during the Davis Cup semifinal against Serbia in Sept. 2017.

As for Chardy, he had a nice run though Indian Wells and Miami. And he had a terrific grass-court season. But other than the grass, he hadn’t gotten past the second round of any tournament since April. He was not coming in with any sort of form after being bounced in the first round in both Basel and Bercy.

Whether or not anyone else could have done better against top-shelf opposition, of course, is an unanswerable question.

Whither Gasquet, Monfils and Simon?

They are the top three French players in the ATP Tour rankings at the moment. Although all of these former top-10 players are outside the top 25.

Gasquet begged off early in the process with an injury.

What about the other two? Well, the best way to term it is probably “captain’s decision”.

Simon, who has been playing club tennis the last few weeks and surely is in shape, just doesn’t seem to be Noah’s kind of guy. That’s been clear from the moment Noah returned to the captaincy early in 2016.

And yet, Simon did play for him in that return tie in Guadeloupe. He also got the call for the first round in 2017 – in Japan. He’s gone to Argentina, and Great Britain, and Germany … and hasn’t played in a home tie since 2012.

Noah’s description of their failure to communicate is that they have “different ways of working.” Simon’s impressive head-to-head results against the top top Croats (albeit not on clay) didn’t score as many points on the selection tote board.

Monfils and Noah: complicated


From the moment Noah returned as captain and decreed that the team would play its first “home” tie all the way in the French territory of Guadeloupe, it was touch and go.

There was no question of Noah leaving Monfils off the squad. His father hails from the island, and he’s a pretty big deal there. So he played. It was the first and last time he played under Noah.

But he didn’t appreciate the lack of input or consultation. The only player who seemed on board with the decision was Tsonga, who was already on that side of the planet and on that surface, playing the South American clay swing.

Tsonga also was the player most on board with Noah returning – so it’s not a shocker that Noah would return that loyalty this weekend.

But Monfils? As Éric Salliot writes for RMC Sport, there were eight French players on hand for the triumph a year ago against Belgium. Monfils was not one of them.

There’s the story of Monfils in Croatia for the 2016 semifinal. Noah was counting on him, but his knee was barking. There was some sort of … conversation and by Wednesday, Monfils was on a plane home rather than in Zadar to cheer on his teammates on the weekend.

Not reliable, Noah says

Previous captains Guy Forget and Arnaud Clément gave Monfils a lot of latitude, Salliot writes. Early morning practices? Forget about it. He wasn’t ready to play on the Friday in the 2014 quarterfinal against Germany. But he brought home the deciding point on Sunday. Noah was convinced he could “manage” Monfils, get him on the team plan, even though he’d been well-warned.

For the first-round match in Japan in 2017, Noah left Monfils out “because it’s much better for the team’s state of mind” that he didn’t play.”

Monfils has rarely disappointed in Davis Cup. He brought home a point in the final both in 2010 in Serbia, and against Roger Federer in Lille in 2014.

And he’s really good on clay.

You’d think Noah would agree he could use him right now.

The options

First up on Sunday is Cilic against Chardy.

On the bench is Lucas Pouille, who is a Noah favorite but who was left on the bench on Friday.

Will captain Noah substitute in Lucas Pouille, his highest-ranked singles player, on Sunday?

Pouille won both his singles matches against Italy, on clay, back in April. And he beat Robert Bautista Agut on a hard court, in the same Stade Pierre-Mauroy, to give France a 2-0 lead in the semifinal against Spain in September.

He also happens to be ranked higher than Chardy, which is a luxury you have when you put a lower-ranked player in the lineup the first day.

Herbert raised his hand as available in singles. So did Mahut.

But there’s no point in saving Pouille for a fifth and deciding rubber, if you can’t get there. And you also would have the more explosive Tsonga (assuming he’s good to go) up against Coric in that one.

So it comes down to Pouille vs. Chardy against Cilic.

And if Cilic wins, Croatia wins the “final” Davis Cup.

(All screengrabs from DavisCup.com)

Chardy, Coric open “final” Davis Cup

The final weekend of Davis Cup, as we’ve come to know it over 118 years, begins Friday in Lille, France.

And it will be French No. 1 Jérémy Chardy against Croatian No. 2 Borna Coric to kick it off (8 a.m. EST).

They’ll be followed by Marin Cilic, ranked No. 7 in the world, against former world No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second singles.

Tsonga is currently ranked No. 259 after missing seven months of the season due to knee surgery.

Few tennis nations have more depth than the French.

They have nine players ranked in the top 100 (Spain currently has 10, the U.S. 11).

But despite a relative embarrassment of riches, there is always drama in the selections.

And as their golden era of French players ages, there always seem to be injury issues that limit the options.

The other X-factor is that even though their home Grand Slam is played on red clay, there are few – if any – among the current crop of French players who can be considered highly accomplished on that surface.

So putting the final on clay is a crapshoot.

Gasquet, Monfils, Simon not chosen

No. 1 Chardy is currently the fifth-ranked player in his own country.

And he’s getting a bucket-list opportunity to become a national hero.

So much so, he even postponed his honeymoon.

Davis Cup calls, honeymoon postponed

The best of them, Richard Gasquet (No. 26, but a former No. 7), bowed out due to injury. Same for the current French No. 2, Gaël Monfils. Monfils is 3-0 against Cilic, and 2-0 against Coric.

As for the French No. 3, Gilles Simon (the top three are separated by only four spots in the rankings), well, that’s … complicated.

Captain Yannick Noah told l’Équipe there were two reasons.

“The first is that Gilles has a way of working that’s fairly far from mine. We discussed it, before and after my selection,” he said. “The second is that I think Gilles is much better on a hard court than on clay. I looked at his statistics. He has very good statistics against the Croats, but poor ones in Davis Cup on clay. I put all that together and I made my choice.”

Great record vs. Croats for Simon


Simon is 6-1 against Cilic, although their only clay-court meeting came in 2007. Notably, he took him to five sets twice – winning in Australia in 2014 and losing in five at the US Open that year, which Cilic won. He is 2-0 against Coric.

His record on clay in Davis Cup isn’t great, although most of those matches came five or more years ago. More recently, he defeated Canadian Vasek Pospisil in straight sets during France’s “home” tie in Guadeloupe in 2016.

The hard-court winning percentage is superior to his clay efforts. But not in a decidedly lopsided fashion. He has never played a match on indoor clay.

Noah also benched Lucas Pouille for Friday in favor of Tsonga. Pouille, who has been the highest-ranked French player the last few years, has fallen back after a difficult 2018.

 Rusty Tsonga takes on Cilic


The second singles rubber Friday will tell the French most of what they need to know.

Tsonga has played just five matches since returning to action in September after a seven-month absence. He’s been competitive in all of them – they’ve all gone three sets – but he has won just one of them.

That was a victory in a third-set tiebreak over No. 65 Guido Pella of Argentina in Antwerp.

Tsonga’s last five-setter came at the Australian Open in January, where he prevailed over Canadian Denis Shapovalov.

His last match on clay came in Sept. 2017, in the Davis Cup semis against Serbia in the same stadium, on the same surface.

It’s a big ask – a crapshoot – to hope for a throwback miracle from Tsonga. But it’s Davis Cup.

French edge in doubles

The downside of qualifying for the ATP Tour Finals – an making the final, losing a heartbreaker – is that Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert won’t have had much time to adapt to the change of surface.

The positive side is that they’re match-tough and, despite that loss, confident.

They have won five of their six Davis Cup doubles rubbers together. Notably, that one defeat came at the hands of Croatia (Cilic and Ivan Dodig) on a hard court in Croatia during the 2016 semifinal tie.

Croatia doesn’t have the same sort of established doubles team, although they do have Mate Pavic, who is ranked No. 3 in the world and forms the second-ranked pair (behind Americans Jack Sock and Mike Bryan) with Oliver Marach of Austria.

They have Dodig, the 33-year-old former No. 4. And that pair did win a smaller ATP Tour event in Chengdu together in September. Pavic and Dodig won Hamburg together on clay in 2017. They could also substitute in Cilic, as they have done before – notably, as mentioned above, against the French.

The court

There have been some issues with the indoor clay court laid down in 60 hours for this tie.

Davis Cup final hits a speed bump

That’s a short turnaround, and clay courts needs time to settle and cure

To that end, the French Federation had players of various ages do a sort of a tennis marathon on the court overnight Wednesday to Thursday, according to RMC Sport.

They’ll do it again Thursday night.

Director of operations Sébastien Hette played down that service-line bump. “Nothing too nasty,” he told RMC. It’s something pretty classic for a clay court; it wasn’t even brought up at the captains’ meeting.”

Peerless Djokovic continues China domination

Croatia’s Borna Coric, still just 21 even if it seems he’s been at this awhile, could look across the net Sunday in Shanghai and see the player he wants to be.

He will rarely have a better view of near-perfect execution, as Novak Djokovic defeated him 6-3, 6-4 to win his fourth Shanghai Masters title.

And Coric will rarely have the reality about how far he still must travel stand out in such sharp relief.

It was Djokovic’s first title in Shanghai since that 2015 season for the ages.

And on some levels, especially in terms of the evolution of his all-court game, you could posit he’s on his way to being even a better player than he was then.

The road runs through Djokovic

Djokovic’s dominance through the last two days, though Coric in the final and fellow 21-year-old Alexander Zverev in the semis, just underscores how far the future generation has to travel to get to the very top.

And with Rafael Nadal still on the shelf with a knee injury, and Roger Federer looking rather mortal again this week even if he did fight his way to the semifinals, the road looks to run through Djokovic for the foreseeable future.

How daunting a prospect that must seem.

“He was the much better player on the court. I was playing good, really. But I was really happy how I played. I couldn’t play much better today, to be honest. I could serve maybe a little bit better, but still, I felt even if I was serving little bit better, he’d still return my serves. So there is nothing I can do,” Coric told the media in Shanghai after the match.

“It was really tough, I need to say. I just didn’t know what to do exactly. He was the much better player on the court today. There is no doubt about that.”

First Masters 1000 final

Coric has been sporting a thick wrap on his right quad. He had it removed, and then had it put on again. But he still ran down every ball.

After letting it fly during an aggressive victory over Federer Saturday, his second of the season against the Swiss, the challenge for Coric Sunday was a different one.

No longer could he play with “nothing to lose,” as he said after the Federer win. He was in his first career Masters 1000 final, against the player who has been his biggest stylistic role model.

If the heavy wrap on his right quad slowed Coric down a little, it didn’t show that much even if he had the wrapping cut off and replaced, and added to, during the match. 

But if Coric wasn’t as aggressive as he was the previous day, Djokovic gave him no openings to even try. The relentless depth of the Serb’s groundstrokes, coupled with a scant few errors, kept the young Croat on the back foot and scrambling much of the time.

To say that Zverev had no answers to the questions Djokovic was asking in their semifinal would be to understate the case. But beyond one obliterated racket, he took it rather well. (Screenshot: TennisTV)

That’s the beauty of Djokovic’s game in full flight. Even from defensive positions, that depth is relentless when he’s playing his best. It’s just such a big task to get on top of him in a rally, it’s the opponent who ends up missing by going for too much – out of exhaustion, frustration or desperation.

Unforced errors actually forced

Most often than not with the young players, as was the case with Zverev in a one-hour shellacking the previous day (in Djokovic’s 1000th career match), they feel as though they made too many errors.

It takes the wisdom of experience, the ability to understand what’s going on both sides of the net, not just theirs, to see the truth.

Even if it’s the unforced error tally that mounts by default on the stats sheet, the majority of those errors are forced by the necessity to do more – in every point.

After a particularly nifty all-court point, Djokovic wanted to hear from his many fans in Shanghai. And he did.

Coric seemed to realize this. And it’s that wisdom, that acceptance of the quality of the opposition, that has helped him jump from outside the top 50 – and a first-round loser to Henri Laaksonen in the first round of the Shanghai qualifying – a year ago to the final this year.

He’ll boast a new career high singles ranking of No. 13 on Monday.

Speedy court, effective serving

This was the fastest court the players, quite unanimously, said they have ever seen in Shanghai. And by opting not to play Beijing the week before, Djokovic was able to get there early, and have three or four days to practice and adjust.

That court speed put a premium on the importance of his own serve. And he responded.

Excellent elevation on Djokovic’s victory leap, after winning Shanghai for the fourth time in his career.

In 47 service games, Djokovic faced just four break points, and saved them all. His success rate on first serve was 85 per cent overall through five matches. And he served 26 aces, with just four double faults.

“Serve was never my No. 1 weapon in the game – never as big as Zverev or Anderson or Isner or these guys. For me the serve was, so to say, a hidden weapon, the shot in the game that is important – the most important. But I always try to use it with accuracy and efficiency, rather than speed and power,” Djokovic told the media in Shanghai.

“I’ve never played on a faster court here in Shanghai. So this year more than ever I needed a lot of success with the first serve. High percentage of first serves in every match,” he added. “Obviously that brings me a lot of joy.”

No. 1 in plain sight

Back at No. 2 in the ranking2 for the first time since the start of the 2017 French Open, Djokovic has one more mountain to climb.

Djokovic didn’t play after Wimbledon a year ago, while Federer was the defending champion in Shanghai. The win means the Serb vaults over Federer into the No. 2 spot in the rankings, by over 1,000 points.

Nadal was defending a final in Shanghai, and he’s been out since the U.S. Open.

All of that leaves Djokovic just 215 points behind Nadal for the top spot, with every result he posts the rest of the season a net positive.

He hasn’t ruled out playing in a week, the week before the Paris Masters.

After, of course, a celebration of son Stefan’s fourth birthday next weekend that involves some dinosaurs.

Djokovic hasn’t played Basel since 2011. And he hasn’t played Vienna since he won it back in 2007. The Vienna tournament director has made no secret of his interest in wooing him to Austria.

“We are very close,  I think it’s around 50 points difference (with Nadal). Obviously I don’t feel as much, I would say, pressure to play before Paris as much as I would if the situation were different, points-wise,” Djokovic said. “But I still will consider playing the week before Paris. I’ll decide with the team probably in a couple days.”

(All screenshots from TennisTV)

Draws made at Next-Gen Finals

The biggest curiosity at next week’s inaugural Next-Gen finals arguably isn’t the group of eight young players who will compete in the event.

At least as much attention will be paid to all the rules changes and innovations planned for the exhibition tournament.

But there will be tennis – probably some excellent tennis even if the young guys are on fumes by now, after their long and successful campaigns.

The two round-robin pools were finalized at a launch party on Sunday (sponsored by Red Bull, of course, a beverage of choice for Next-Geners everywhere).

They could have named the pools “Federer” and “Nadal” groups. Or the “Becker” and “Chang” groups, a nod to the two youngest teenagers to win Grand Slam titles.

Or even the “Pietrangeli” and “Panatta” groups, to honor the two male Italian Slam winners.

But they’ve gone with … “Group A” and “Group B”.

(The tournament did name the various sections of the arena: #Vision, #Emotion, #Passion, #Innovation, #Speed, #Future. Tickets are available in five of the 10 sections for the opening session, and in all 10 sections for the Tuesday night session.)

Two rather formally-dressed women held up the pool group cards, and the tournament made the young guys “select” their model. A rather tone-deaf move, given all that’s going on in the world at the moment.

Group A

Andrey Rublev (RUS)
Denis Shapovalov (CAN)
Hyeong Chung (KOR)
[WC] Gianluigi Quinzi (ITA)

Group B

Karen Khachanov (RUS)
Borna Coric (CRO)
Jared Donaldson (USA)
Daniil Medvedev (RUS) 

Doubles specialists Bruno Soares and Jean-Julien Rojer were on hand to interview them.

The action begins on Tuesday.

The 2 p.m. day session kicks off with Khachanov vs. Medvedev, followed by Shapovalov vs. Chung. That is scheduled to be followed by an exhibition between the highest-ranked Next-Gen absentee, Alexander Zverev, and alternate Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Coric and Donaldson open the 7:30 p.m. night session. Rublev and home-country favorite Quinzi will follow.

Meanwhile, the Next-Geners have revealed their favorite emojis.

Coric showed everyone the bag of freebies in his hotel room (nice cutaway shot to the host hotel’s logo – yeah, a lot of this is about the benjamins).

Not to be left out, Shapovalov and Medvedev went sightseeing.

Pics: Federer hits with Coric

NEW YORK – It was Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day Saturday. So there were lots of eager beavers on hand to watch Roger Federer practice with Croatia’s Borna Coric on the Grandstand Court.

For the 20 minutes Tennis.Life was there, Coric was kind of having his way with Federer. Which is why you never put too much stock in small sample sizes or practice-set scores.

How did he look?

Well …

Federer definitely looked a lot more spry than he did during that last match in Montreal, when he tweaked his back and decided to skip Cincinnati the following week.

Did he look free, easy and 100 per cent? Federphiles who watch his every move could probably judge better than I.

But something still didn’t seem quite kosher with his serve. And Coric was having no trouble sending his groundies whizzing past the 36-year-old.

He definitely didn’t seem to be bent in his full-crouch serve receiving position. But it’s practice, so he didn’t need to.

All in all, Federer still has three more days until his debut against American Frances Tiafoe Tuesday night on Arthur Ashe Stadium. 

They had the court booked from 10 a.m. to noon. At 11:19 a.m., on a signal from Federer, they called it a morning. Also probably not too meaningful.

Tough first round

Tiafoe isn’t a cakewalk of a first-round opponent. That’s especially true as the 19-year-old will be playing in his home Slam, and he doesn’t mind the showtime.

Ranked No. 71, Tiafoe has had some very good Challenger events this season. But as he makes the full-time transition to the ATP Tour, he’s only 5-13 on the season at the top level.

It’s tough up there. Among those 13 losses are defeats at the hands of Alexander Zverev (twice), Federer in Miami (the first time they faced each other), Juan Martin del Potro, Fabio Fognini and Richard Gasquet.

Finally, a maiden ATP title for Coric

It’s hard to claim something was a long time coming when you’re talking about a 20-year-old on the ATP Tour. But as precocious as Borna Coric was as a teenager, most expected him to have won his first career title by now.

The Croat finally did it in Marrakech on Sunday.

Coric saved five match points in the second set on the way to a 5-7, 7-6 (3), 7-5 victory over No. 3 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany. At two hours, 38 minutes, it was the longest final on the ATP Tour so far this season.

“Bad luck. I was a little bit lucky to be honest, I just thought it was basically over,” Coric said during his trophy ceremony speech.

It probably should have been over. Coric was down a break in both the second and third sets. During the 5-6 game in the second set, when Coric saved all the match points, he missed at least four first serves by barely a hair and had to battle with his second delivery. He also was the victim of a pair of net cords that went Kohlschreiber’s way.

Coric, 20, defeated 33-year-old Philipp Kohlschreiber to win in Marrakech Sunday. (Screenshots: TennisTV)

Still, he managed to hold in that game and roll in the tiebreak. Kohlschreiber didn’t do a lot wrong in failing to convert at least one of them, although he played a poor game in the final game of the match to get broken and give Coric the title.

Coric was a finalist in Marrakech a year ago; he also reached the final in Chennai to begin the 2016 season. “Borna, was a great fight today. You deserve (it). You have a great future. Keep going,” he said. “I also (will) keep going a little bit more in my older ages.”

Only Andy Murray, in his quarter-final in Dubai earlier this year, saved more match points on his way to victory. He saved seven; as it happens, those also came against Kohlschreiber.

The most experienced of the “Next-Gen”

Coric is still eligible for the ATP Tour’s new “Next-Gen” finals in Milan, Italy in November. But it feels as though he’s a veteran compared to some of the other “Next-Gen” players, including 19-year-old Alexander Zverev and 20-year-old Karen Khachanov. Coric is younger than Khachanov, who was outside the top 300 and mostly playing $15,000 ITF tournaments when Coric received the ATP’s “Star of Tomorrow” award in 2014.

The Croat’s ranking dropped 20 spots last Monday, to No. 79, when the points from last year’s Marrakech final dropped off. But he’ll more than make up that ground Monday; he should return to the top-50 in the rankings for the first time this season.