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Croatian Borna Coric had been 0-2 at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Rome before this week.

For Coric, Who Faces Federer In Rome, Less Is More

Croatian has played fewer events but had better results

Two years ago, it didn't matter how well – or how badly – Borna Coric was playing. He always had one answer for what he should do next: Play more.

The Croatian was on a three-match winning streak? He should play another tournament, he might win three more matches. He had lost two straight? He should play another tournament, he could end his losing streak.

“I thought that was normal. I needed to play a lot of tournaments also to feel more comfortable,” Coric told ATPTour.com. “It didn't matter if I felt bad or if I felt good, just the answer was to play tournaments.”

For three years, Coric played nearly as many events as he could physically handle – and then some – and far exceeded the Top 20 average. His most egregious example came in 2017, when Coric competed in 28 events, or 25 per cent more than the Top 20 averaged, at 21.

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But before 2018, Coric changed his coaching team and brought on Riccardo Piatti, former coach of Ivan Ljubicic, Novak Djokovic and Milos Raonic, among others, as his main coach. Piatti's first item of business: changing Coric's schedule.

The Croatian was spending too much time playing, Piatti said, and not enough time practising and improving. They needed to spend a minimum of 15 weeks practising.

Coric played only 20 events in 2018, two fewer than the Top 20 average, and after three years of ending the season with a year-end ATP Ranking in the 40s, Coric finished in the Top 15 for the first time.

Borna Coric's Recent Playing History

Season

Coric's Tournaments

Top 20 Average

Year-End ATP Ranking

2015

30

23

44

2016

21*

20.7

48

2017

28

21.4

48

2018

20

22.1

12

*Missed the final six weeks of the season because of knee surgery

For Coric, less was truly more. “For the two years I was just not improving,” he said. “I forgot about improving, and about my level of the game.”

Most encouraging for the team was that he produced his best tennis when it mattered most – at Grand Slams and ATP Masters 1000 events. He made his first Grand Slam fourth round at the US Open (l. to Del Potro), a feat he backed up in January in Australia.

At the Masters 1000 level, Coric reached his first semi-final at the 2018 BNP Paribas Open and his first final at last year's Rolex Shanghai Masters, where he beat Roger Federer for the second time in 2018 after winning the Halle final on grass.

Peaking at the biggest events was one of Piatti's goals for the team. They also wanted Coric to stay healthy. He had to end his 2017 season six weeks early because of right knee surgery, but has been relatively injury-free since.

“It was really too much,” Coric said of his former schedules. “With my kind of style of the game, I cannot do it.”

The 22-year-old will have another chance to upset Federer when the two meet in the third round at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome later Thursday.

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Coric avenged his Miami quarter-final loss against #NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime in three sets on Monday, and he dismissed Brit Cameron Norrie 6-2, 6-2 on Tuesday evening, playing the type of aggressive tennis he has worked on with Piatti. Coric finished with 20 winners to 10 unforced errors, and won 10 of his 13 trips to the net (77%).

“He needs to produce, not just wait for it to happen. I want him to attack the game,” Piatti told ATPTour.com. “I'm quite happy about the way he's going to play now.”

Federer beat Portugal's Joao Sousa 6-4, 6-3 on Thursday in a match that was postponed from Wednesday because of rain. Federer and Coric are facing off for the second time this year, after Federer won their Dubai semi-final in February en route to his 100th tour-level title.

The interesting thing is I played today, he didn't. Is that an advantage? Is that a disadvantage? I don't know. Borna is tough. I lost to him a couple times last year. He played really good against me in Halle, Shanghai," Federer said. "Regardless of the surface, I know it's going to be tough.”

View Federer-Coric FedEx ATP Head2Head Series

Coric is feeling positive about another matchup with the four-time Rome finalist. The Croatian never had to get over the “Roger factor”, the awestruck feeling some players have when they stare across the net at one of their idols and one of the greatest of all-time. To the contrary, the Croatian has relished the opportunities and has played some of his best tennis against the Swiss.

“I always enjoyed playing against top guys. I always liked that occasion, I would say... I still do, when I go on the court with him, I get a little bit nervous, and it's some different feeling, for sure, but it's not like I get stressed or scared,” Coric said.

“When you play against those kinds of players, you need to bring something else to the court. You just feel a little bit more excited, a little bit more pumped up... It gives you even more focus, it gives you more confidence to go for the balls more, and then if it's your day, you can play very good.”

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