Both Marin Cilic and Borna Coric suffered big slides down the rankings in 2019 – can the pair bounce back immediately in their first matches of 2020 and overcome Austria in the ATP Cup in Sydney on Saturday?
A certain Dominic Thiem – the World No. 4, Indian Wells champion and ATP Finals runner-up – might have something to say about that, especially after his sensational hardcourt form last season.
AUSTRIA ??: 1. Dominic Thiem 2. Dennis Novak 3. Sebastian Ofner 4. Oliver Marach 5. Jurgen Melzer. Captain: Thomas Muster.
CROATIA ??: 1. Borna Coric 2. Marin Cilic 3. Viktor Galovic 4. Ivan Dodig 5. Nikola Mektic. Captain: Luka Kutanjac.
Rubber 1: Dennis Novak (??) vs Marin Cilic (??), live from Sydney at 5.30pm local time (6.30am GMT)
It was a season to forget for Cilic in 2019 – he struggled with a knee injury for the bulk of it and only made one semi-final (in Moscow, where he only beat Ivo Karlovic and Jeremy Chardy before losing in straight sets to Andrey Rublev).
Cilic registered a 22-19 record for the season, which is extremely poor for a player who made Grand Slam finals at Wimbledon 2017 and Australian Open 2018 in the previous two seasons. Furthermore, it was the first time in 12 years where Cilic failed to win a title, with the Croatian falling to No. 39 in the world – his lowest ranking since 2013.
However, a fit Cilic is a force to be reckoned with – he’s one of the few men who have won titles at 250, 500, Masters 1000 and Grand Slam level, along with winning the Davis Cup for Croatia. If he can shake off that knee issue and get back to his best, there’s no reason why Cilic can’t quickly vault back into the top 10 in 2020.
Meanwhile, Novak’s best result on tour came back in 2018 when he qualified for Wimbledon and advanced all the way to the third round, defeating Lucas Pouille in five sets before going down to Milos Raonic.
The 26-year-old earned a career-high ranking of No. 104 in June of last year after winning his first Challenger title in Taipei, while he was also a runner-up in Ilkley and qualified for Wimbledon again. Novak is currently No. 108 in the world, so he will be determined to break into the top 100 in January.
It will be the first career meeting between the pair – and it’s a match Cilic really needs to win. He doesn’t need to be firing on all cylinders, but after his 2019 season, the Croatia simply needs to find a way to win the last point.
Rubber 2: Dominic Thiem (??) vs Borna Coric (??), live from Sydney, not before 7.00pm local time (8.00am GMT)
Thiem compiled a career-best season in 2019 and if he can continue to make strides on all surfaces in 2020, he could be in with a shot of winning a major title.
The Austrian tied with Novak Djokovic for most titles last season with five, claiming his maiden Masters 1000 crown in Indian Wells, along with winning 500-level trophies in Vienna, Barcelona and Beijing and the 250 title in Kitzbuhel.
Additionally, Thiem reached the Roland Garros final for the second year running, snapping Djokovic’s 26-match winning streak at Grand Slam level before going down to Rafael Nadal in four sets.
Ranked in the top 10 since June 2016, which is the second longest current streak among active players, Thiem capped a great season by beating both Roger Federer and Djokovic to reach the Nitto ATP Finals final in London, where he fell in a tight match to Stefanos Tsitsipas.
By contrast, Coric slipped from a career-high No. 12 ranking at the end of 2018 to No. 28 in 2019, posting a 27-22 record, finishing the season with a six-match losing streak.
Coric’s highlights included making the final in St. Petersburg, semi-finals in Dubai and s-Hertogenbosch, quarter-finals at Masters 1000 events in Miami and Monte-Carlo and the fourth round at the Australian Open. However, injuries did play a part in Coric’s dip in form as he withdrew from Wimbledon and conceded a walkover at the U.S. Open with abdominal and back problems respectively.
As mentioned, Coric ended 2019 on a six-match losing streak, so he will want to return to the winners circle as soon as possible. Unfortunately for him, he runs into one of the hottest players in the world right now. Thiem has won their last three meetings and should be too good once again in Sydney.
Rubber 3: Doubles - teams to be confirmed, live from Sydney around 9.00pm local time (10.00am GMT)
Both teams have doubles specialists in their ranks, with Austrian boasting Oliver Marach and veteran Jurgen Melzer, who was also a former top 10 player in singles, while Ivan Dodig and Nikola Metic form a very strong combination for Croatia.