After plenty of struggles in 2015, Rafael Nadal looks to bounce back on Monday night when he faces one of the most promising young players on the ATP tour in the first round of the U.S. Open. Nadal has slipped to No. 8 in the world, and has failed to reach the semifinals of any Grand Slam this year. The 29-year-old Spaniard is not expected to cruise in his first match in New York.
Eighteen-year-old Croatian tennis prodigy Borna Coric doesn’t have to pull off the impossible against Nadal. Currently ranked No. 33, the youngster defeated his boyhood idol in October with a 6-2 7-6 (7-4) result in the quarterfinals at Basel.
Now Coric, who has a 15-14 record this season and earned a win over Andy Murray in Dubai, will stare down Nadal in a primetime matchup. Coric has gone 3-16 against ranked opponents this season, with Jeremy Chardy and Tommy Robredo joining Murray as those who have fallen by his racket. He knows there is little reason to feel wary against his prolific opponent.
"I have absolutely nothing to lose," Coric told USA Today Sports. "I can play very relaxed. I believe that I can win. At the same time, I'm aware that he's the big favorite. All the pressure is on him. I'm not going to just give the match to him."
Along with the proper demeanor before the match, Coric’s even showed improvement on tennis’ biggest stages. He suffered a first-round loss to Chardy at the Australian Open, only to bounce him in Portugal four months later. Coric's second-round, five-set win over Robredo was one of the biggest highlights at this year’s French. Coric also nearly reached the third round of Wimbledon by pushing No. 25 Andreas Seppi to five sets.
He will be facing a superstar still in the midst of regaining his top form. Nadal has dealt with back, knee, and ankle injuries in recent years, and his play in 2015 hasn’t been up to snuff by his standards.
Nadal even acknowledged the youngster’s development, but expressed confidence in his abilities before the tournament.
"[Coric]'s a tough player," Nadal said to reporters on Saturday. "He's a young player with a lot of energy and he's a big competitor. He's one of the players that is [part of] the future of our sport, so it's a tough one, but I'm playing well. I feel like I'm ready."
But Coric’s chances of topping Nadal may still appear slim. He has the 27th-best odds of winning the U.S. Open.
Nadal has a 29-10 record this season, claiming only one title. Already the record-holder with nine French titles, the "King of Clay" fell to top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals of Roland Garros this year, his first loss in Paris in 39 consecutive matches. He also showed poor form when he fell to American Dustin Brown in four sets in the second round of Wimbledon.
Nadal has won the U.S. Open twice (2010, 2013), but didn't compete last year due to a wrist injury.
Start Time: 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
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