For most of his career, all Federico Coria wanted to do was to fade into the background.
The younger brother of former World No. 3 Guillermo Coria, Federico felt the pressure of his famous surname every time he stepped onto the court. That feeling got heavier every time he failed to replicate his brother’s prowess and fell short at tournaments that Guillermo, a nine-time ATP Tour titlist and Grand Slam finalist, conquered to earn himself the nickname ‘El Mago’ (The Magician).
After years of languishing outside the Top 200 and even contemplating hanging up his racquets, the 29-year-old Argentine decided he was ready for a change. Armed with a new coach and a psychologist, Coria has skyrocketed to No. 85 in the FedEx ATP Rankings and reached a milestone first ATP Tour semi-final at the Cordoba Open (l. Cerundolo, eventual champion).
Late in his career, the Argentine is now just getting started.
“At my house, we absolutely lived and breathed tennis [when I was growing up],” Coria said in an interview with ATPTour.com. “Everything was tennis. When I was little, if I wanted to see my dad I would go to the sports club.
“I grew up watching my brother Guille on TV… To me, he was like a superhero. He was my idol. I didn’t watch cartoons, I would watch my brother compete all around the world.”
That pride that Coria felt for his older brother’s achievements has never changed, but the way he relates to that weighty legacy has. When the Rosario native speaks about his 11-year career, it carries an unspoken ‘before’ and ‘after’. Back then, Coria struggled to cope with the self-imposed pressure of living up to his brother as he took up professional tennis himself, and fear of failure often kept him from putting in his maximum effort.
Now, the Argentine feels and acts like a completely different player.
“On my part, there is just 100 per cent more effort that I didn’t put in before for the fear of giving my all and still failing,” Coria admitted. “I got to an age, around 26 or so, when I decided to really give it my all. Just give it one last try at 100 per cent and play without fear. Accompanied by my girlfriend and the people around me, thankfully things started going my way and I began to achieve a lot of my dreams.”
One of those dreams was to compete at Roland Garros for the first time. Coria got the long-awaited opportunity last year after making his Top 100 breakthrough, but that also meant that he would have to make his debut directly into the main draw. While most players would be delighted by that news, for Coria the news only brought anxiety.
Faced with the familiar pressure of contesting the Grand Slam event where his older brother reached the final in 2004, this time Coria called on his team for help.
Try this next time you’re on court 😜@chile_open @fedeecoria @juanmacerundolo pic.twitter.com/BSCCrw4R1t
— ATP Tour (@atptour) March 9, 2021
“I had to do a lot of mental preparation with my psychologist, and that went on for months as I kept improving my ranking. I told my psychologist, ‘Pablo, I’m about to play in the main draw of Roland Garros, what do I do about my head?’” Coria recalled.
“The thought of playing was giving me a lot of anxiety, because I had never even played qualifying in Paris and last year I was debuting directly into the main draw. It brought up a lot of fear and doubt in me.”
Working with a psychologist gave Coria the push he needed to deal with his mental hangups, and the result was his career best Grand Slam run to the third round. It followed his previous career-best, a second-round appearance at the US Open just weeks prior.
Coria also credited his girlfriend for helping him gain a mental edge, as well as the work he’s done with coach Andres Schneiter. The pair linked up full time last year after Schneiter, whose players affectionately call him ‘El Gringo’, parted ways with Chilean No. 1 Cristian Garin.
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Schneiter’s coaching methods constantly force Coria to reach outside of his comfort zone, and the Argentine is grateful for it. The coach wants his players to be the centre of attention on the tennis court and pump themselves up during the match – the opposite of Coria’s natural instincts to shy away from the spotlight.
“I still have a few hang-ups from the early part of my career, always looking with my head down,” he said. “When I was younger, I didn’t even want to look around when I was on court for fear that someone was watching me. That’s part of my life story, and I needed someone to break through all of that. Someone who could make me lift my head up, puff out my chest and celebrate every point.
“I’m normally not someone who celebrates or pumps themselves up, but this is what we’ve found that is working well now. It does make me a bit embarrassed sometimes to be that way [on court], but I’m fighting hard to find the right balance and find the ‘champion’ identity. It’s a job that I have to work on day in and day out.”
On Tuesday, Coria marked his 29th birthday with his first-ever main draw victory in Santiago, a battling 4-6, 7-6(4), 7-6(4) win over Gianluca Mager that required him to dig deep and stay tough mentally.
He celebrated match point with an unrestrained shout of joy and a double fist-pump – another victory in itself for a player increasingly ready to take centre stage.