There are quite a few newcomers and prominent players who are trying to get a major breakthrough on the big stage. We have the really young Alexander Zverev, the mysterious Nick Kyrgios and the older horde of the young players, viz., Lucas Pouille and Dominic Thiem. And then we have the prominent but struggling players of the ‘weak generation’, viz., Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, David Goffin and Grigor Dimitrov. That’s the pool of talents we have right now which is supposed to snatch away the elite status from the Big 5 (Big 4 + Stanislas Wawrinka) in due time. Each of these talents is in his own stage of development that is different from that of other players in the group. But, guess who is sprinting the fastest on this track….The elegant Bulgarian, Grigor Dimitrov!
Grigor Dimitrov has impressed us with major improvements and great results this year. Consider that Grigor has a 3-1 year-to-date win-loss record versus top 10 opponents as against the 13-46 record he had for this before 2017. His three top 10 wins came against Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori at Brisbane International. That is where his initial breakthrough came this year.
He made a strong showing at the Oz Open with good wins over Richard Gasquet and David Goffin. He fell to the great Mallorcan, Rafael Nadal in the semis. He played his second grand slam semi-final of his career. But, there was more to the significance of his performance.
He put up a neck-on-neck fight with assumably the greatest defensive baseliner in history, Nadal. That match went on for 4 hours and 56 minutes. Not for a minute did the Bulgarian look fatigued or unenthusiastic. He seemed to be made up of all steel and concrete. His resolve was commendable and his tempo unstoppable. Let me remind you that he came really close to winning the match when he had two break points in the 8th game of the 5th set when Rafa was serving at 3-4. He couldn’t capitalize them and gave away the match. But that night he had performed in a manner that attracted the attention of tennis fraternity.
Dimitrov is playing the ball better than ever before. His legs are fiery. His footwork is cracking. His ground strokes from the baseline now seem to contain a lot more power and precision. He is striking the ball with authority! And, above all, he knows what he is doing and what kind of game could make him a formidable force on the tour. He doesn’t look feeble on the court anymore and seems capable of irking most of his opponents by his slice-based waiting game. What’s more? He actually has different game plans for the different kinds of opponents. He would go out and play aggressive tennis against a player with a solid baseline game, like, Nadal or Djokovic. And, he would play a waiting-game (he would wait for an error or weak shot) against a more vulnerable opponent. He can peform both attrition and attack as per the situation.
Grigor will take a lot of confidence from the results so far. He will back himself to take more steps forward. His nearly sorted-out game will get more perfect and efficient as the tour goes forward. If he can take Nadal to a 5th set in a grand slam match he should be all set to cause headaches to the other members of the Big 5 as well.
There’s plenty of opportunity for Dimitrov’s brand of tennis. I can see him step up his aggressive game. And, then, he will be the man to beat on slick courts along with Roger. I fancy his chances of acquiring silverware in the American summer hard court season. I would add Shanghai to that list too. Quick courts at Cincinatti and US Open will allow him to express his game freely. He will overwhelm his opponents for once and win a title or two. With a good showing in this part of the season, he will be pumped up for a great finish to the year at the Nitto ATP Would Tour Finals. With a good season finally, he would find himself as one of the elites of mens’ tennis. He is in a position to do this physically and mentally, and could possibly have a season pretty similar to the fairytale outlined above. Watch out for the Bulgarian!
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