Roland Garros Rematch: Can Grigor Dimitrov Upset Novak Djokovic Again?
This two-part series will explore the third round matchups of the top two seeds from Roland Garros, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Each will be facing an opponent who has defeated them in the past 12 months, and we will highlight how these underdogs pulled off their upsets and if they could possibly do it again.
The Setting: ATP World Tour Masters Series 1000 Madrid, Indoor Clay
The Upset: Grigor Dimitrov had been slowly improving over the years. He was expected to be a teenage great but he took some time to get adjusted to playing at the highest level of the game. Dimitrov’s ranking had been steadily improving and his results kept on getting better. He would show flashes of greatness but still had not put together a “coming-out match”. Well, when he met World #1 Novak Djokovic in the second round, his chance to have a breakout match arrived.
Dimitrov did not disappoint. He came out strong, going toe-to-toe with Djokovic from the start. He stayed in points, in games, and in sets even though Djokovic had him at a disadvantage through most of the rallies. Dimitrov took his chances, hitting big shots to the open court whenever possible and just making more of those than he missed. Any opening that Djokovic left was taken advantage of. This was a match of Dimitrov waiting for his opportunities and striking.
This match was also all about Dimitrov’s inability to keep a lead. He would outplay Djokovic to gain an advantage and then falter. He broke to take a 6-5 lead in the first set but couldn’t serve it out. He came up with big shots to take the tiebreak, but that set never should have reaches that point. He broke for 4-2 in the second and needed just two holds to take the match but couldn’t do it and was broken right back.
Ultimately, though, the match hinged on Dimitrov’s ability to overcome all of this. Cramping, limping, clearly hurting, Dimitrov went for everything in the second set tiebreak. And when he couldn’t pull it out, you felt that Djokovic would run away with the third set. But Dimitrov didn’t give up, breaking in the first game of the final set and never looking back.
Can He Do it Again: Neither quite played their very best in Madrid and both were obviously not in peak physical condition. Djokovic’s ankle was clearly an issue after he rolled it in the second set and Dimitrov looked tired and beat up for the second half of the match as well. Still, each played at a high level of tennis and it was overall a pretty even match.
Djokovic looks physically better now than he did a few weeks ago and will be out for revenge. He needs to keep balls a little deeper than he did in their last match and not leave the court as open once the rallies get long like he did too many times in Madrid. He tempted Dimitrov to go for big winners and the Bulgarian just succeeded too often.
Dimitrov, for what it’s worth, could have played a good deal better than he actually did. His first serve came in at a paltry 53% and he only won 52% of the points off his second serve. He gave up 12 break point opportunities.
What Dimitrov did very well, which is what Djokovic must rue, is that Dimitrov played better on most of the big points. He faltered when he was ahead but was solid as a rock when playing from even or behind. That is how Dimitrov stayed in it and that is how he eventually took the match. He went for big shots on big points and didn’t miss. And if he can do that again, over the course of 5 sets, then we’re in for another tight, exciting match in which a huge upset would no longer shock us.