Julian Finney/Getty Images

It’s been an extremely Andy Murray series of events. The ornery Scot played blisteringly good, 28-wins-straight tennis to finally claim the No. 1 spot for the first time in his career, but has since looked much easier to topple, taking losses to names you wouldn’t immediately recognize: older brother Mischa Zverev at the Australian Open, injury-plagued Vasek Pospisil at Indian Wells, and clay court specialist Albert Ramos Vinolas at Monte Carlo. When Dominic Thiem cut short his Barcelona run last week, Murray was going colder still. Today his woes continued with a 6-3, 6-3 loss in the third round of the Madrid Open, an upset at the hands of Borna Coric.

Who the hell is Borna Coric?

Advertisement

While this blog has spent most of the last few months blabbering about the promise of Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev, the young Croat probably deserves a spot in that same cohort, even if his No. 59 ranking has yet to reflect it due to an ugly 2017. Lacking the out-and-out baseline weapons of the aforementioned duo, Coric plies a sturdy, controlled style much wiser than his 20 years. Novak Djokovic once remarked that Coric reminded him of himself at that age, and the similarity’s clear: a consistent ball-striker and easy mover, with a two-handed backhand solid as a granite slab. In that sense it’s not all that different from the tennis Andy Murray plays, and today Coric simply did it better than his erratic elder, who was flubbing shots you won’t often see him miss, ending with 28 unforced errors.

By the tail end of this straight sets loss, Murray was flashing bewildered, sarcastic smiles to his box. The feeling shouldn’t be totally unfamiliar, though. This is not the first time Coric has beaten Andy Murray, and, oddly, it’s not even the first time he’s beaten Andy Murray after sneaking into a tournament as a lucky loser—someone who finds a slot in the draw even after losing their qualifying matches, simply because someone higher up withdrew. (He did the same at Dubai in 2015, winning a similarly smooth 6-1, 6-3 match there.) Coric, who snagged his first ATP title in Marrakech last month, is just beginning his hard ascent up the rankings, but somewhere in the future he’ll offer a perfect stylistic foil for his two heavy-hitting contemporaries already well on their way to supremacy.