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“He proved he belongs at the top”: Borna Coric’s coach on Croat’s resurgence
In an exclusive interview, Mate Delic, Borna Coric’s coach, tells Tennis Majors a story of perseverance as the Croat duo try to build on the success in Cincinnati
As Borna Coric completed his improbable title run in Cincinnati, the first people he shared the avalanche of emotions with were his physiotherapist Yiani Louizos and his coach Mate Delic.
As Coric told Tennis Majors in an interview a few days ago, Delic is with him all the time. “We joke that we spend 52 weeks a year together, he has had three or four days off, and that is it,” Coric said.
You know what they say, there is a grain of truth in every joke. More than a grain in this particular instance, as Delic is as devoted as they come, particularly when it comes to his friend and pupil, Coric.
Delic, 29, a former pro himself whose career-high was world No 150, switched to coaching in order to help Coric get his career back on track. After all, they had been friends for more than a decade. “We were in the mud at the beginning, deep mud, but we managed to dig ourselves out with hard work and a lot of sacrifice”, Delic told Tennis Majors, in an exclusive interview.
Delic also spoke about what pleased him the most about Coric’s run in Cincinnati, the need to stay humble, the upcoming US Open, future goals, his relationship with Borna…
Tennis Majors: How have the days after winning Cincinnati gone, it was an unexpected trophy at this stage after all?
Mate Delic: We tried to put aside everything that happened in order to focus on the US Open. We are riding a good wave at the moment – we struggled, fought and made a huge effort so that we could be in the situation we find ourselves in today. That is why we need to use the momentum and to keep going with the same intensity, and we leave the celebrations for afterwards. So, we focused on practice, as much as we could considering Borna’s problems with the toe…
Tennis Majors: Borna told me he had to rest for a couple of days, it was a nail issue if I am not
Mate Delic: Yes, ever since the second round in Cincy his toenail had grown into the flesh. It kept getting worse, so he took injections in order to play. On the very first day without receiving an injection, he felt a great amount of pain and could not walk. Luckily, the inflammation did not affect the bone, but they had to perform a minor procedure to remove the nail. Everything is all right now.
Tennis Majors: As a coach, what were you most pleased with in Cincinnati?
Mate Delic: I saw him come into his own already at the Challengers he was playing, particularly after Hamburg – he served better and played more aggressively, but then he had a groin injury, so we had to withdraw from Umag. After that we were not able to practice properly for two weeks…Going back to your question, I am most pleased with his attitude and, of course, his serve – in his entire career, he never served better than in Cincinnati. Also, whenever opportunity arose, he was going for the point, trying to take the initiative. Everybody knows that his backhand is among the best, but his forehand was really good as well, especially the first ball after the serve.
Tennis Majors: His serve indeed was remarkable – do you think it can hold up at that level for a prolonged period of time?
Mate Delic: I think so, yes. We worked a lot on the various aspects of the serve, and we must not forget that he was not able to serve at all for a year and a half because of the shoulder injury. I was just waiting for him to relax a bit mentally and not to think whether he would feel something in his shoulder or not. In Cincy it all came together, a couple of wins provided him with an additional boost, so that made him even more effective on serve.
Tennis Majors: Providing that he stays injury-free, where do you feel Borna’s ceiling is now? Many people forget that he is only 25 years old, 26 in November.
Mate Delic: The most important thing is that he is healthy. In that case, he can go on to achieve great things. With this title in Cincinnati, I think he proved that he belongs at the top. Now we need to remain humble, to keep working with the same zeal and to wait for our opportunity. It is a proven recipe.
Tennis Majors: Coric is already in the top 30, yet he does not defend any points until March. Great opportunity for another breakthrough?
Mate Delic: That is true, until next year’s Wimbledon he only has 100 or so points to defend. There is room to go for top 15 or even top 10. He is in a more comfortable position now because he is seeded at slams and seeded at most 250 and 500 tournaments. Up until two weeks ago that did not sound realistic, our initial goal for 2022 was to get back to top 100.
Tennis Majors: In which aspects do you feel that you have influenced Borna the most?
Mate Delic: I think I bring the type of energy he needs. I know him extremely well, we spent the last 10 to 15 years together – while I was still playing, we used to practice all the time. I know his virtues and flaws and I know when to push him and when to back away. For instance, I can feel when he is nervous in practice, so I do not tell him straight away if he is doing something wrong on the court – that would only add fuel to the fire at that moment. I wait for the right moment and then I tell him. On the other hand, when I feel that everything is fine with him, I can keep him on the court for a long time to work on things we need to work on. Furthermore, I have to mention Borna’s physiotherapist Yiani Louizos, he did wonders with Borna’s shoulder and he is one of the people that would “put his hand in fire” for Borna, as we say. We make a hell of a team.
Tennis Majors: At the US Open, Borna starts with a qualifier from France, Enzo Couacaud (world No 194), then plays Brooksby or Lajovic with the prospect of Alcaraz in the third round looming. Not an easy draw…
Mate Delic: We go match by match. If you look at the results this year, you can see that a different player can win the title every week. As for Borna, I am glad that I see the fire in his eyes again, the fire that makes him finish off the opponent when he is vulnerable. He lost that a bit because he did not have many wins under his belt, but I can see that he is hungry again.
Tennis Majors: Lastly, where do you see room for improvement?
Mate Delic: The forehand is getting better, he needs to continue to be aggressive with it. We speak a lot about the first shot after the serve, I think he can improve physically as well. There is room for improvement, which is great news. We were in the mud at the beginning, deep mud, but we managed to dig ourselves out with hardwork and a lot of sacrifice. Now we need to keep working and build on it.