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The Kids Are Winning—Just Not The Ones We Thought

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Sure, tell a story about tall boy who’d grown out of the pinstriped pajamas that Pharrell Williams designed for him, rolled down the swaggy calf-high socks after they got uncomfortable, and let himself be crushed under the weight of a half-dozen glossy features hailing him as the future. Alexander Zverev—just 20 and already the No. 4 seed at the U.S. Open—lost last night, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(1), 7-6(4). But it did not look much like a kid collapsing under expectations. It looked like a kid losing to a better peer. Borna Coric, also 20 but lagging miles behind in buzz and ranking, stayed perfectly level with Zverev in their many, many grinding baseline rallies, and then reliably found one more trick when Zverev was gassed. It wasn’t that Zverev played an especially careless match. None of his usual depth charges could break through this Croatian wall:

Coric, last seen on this blog putting a slumping Andy Murray out of his misery, plays a sturdy baseline style with notes of Novak Djokovic—a comparison that the Serbian star has himself has raised—starring a neat two-handed backhand that he can flatten out at will with a surprise tweak to the end of his swing. Coric has been as high as No. 33 in the world in his career, but now sits at No. 61 after a shambling season: Of the 20 tour-level tournaments he played this year before the Open, he exited 11 in the first round.


Against his celebrated peer, though, Coric was nothing but resilient. After going down 4-5, 0-40, and facing the prospect of a deciding set, he erased a slew of set points, held on and dominated the tiebreak to earn himself a third-round meeting with No. 28 seed Kevin Anderson. Even when Zverev seemed to have wrested control of the point with his deep hitting, Coric found ways to claw back into it:

“I know that I could have done some big things here,” said a dejected Zverev after the match. “I know that I could have done something that I haven’t done before. But I won’t. It’s just as simple as that.” After a season of big titles but meager Slam results—he has still never made a quarterfinal of a major—Zverev might begin to remedy his few weaknesses. He was sharply reminded of one last night, winning just 18 of 32 forays to the net.

Of course the spindly German wasn’t the only high-profile youth casualty from Wednesday. There was his quasi-rival Nick Kyrgios, discovering his shoulder had gone numb, baring his soul in the medical timeout, then leaving his usual mushroom cloud hanging over the court after a first-round exit to the world No. 235. But on the other hand there is now 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov wrecking the No. 8 seed with aplomb, accelerating from relative unknown to Arthur Ashe darling real quick. Some large sons may rise as others fall.

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