Dimitrov vs Djokovic

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.

Grigor Dimitrov: Slow and Steady Leads to Greatness

By Yeshayahu Ginsburg

During Wimbledon 2011, three young players that were expected by many to someday be top tennis players were all playing their second-round matches at the same time. Two of them were competing in what many thought would be their coming-out parties. One was playing quite poorly against a middling opponent.

The names in reference are Ryan Harrison, Grigor Dimitrov and Bernard Tomic. Harrison was fighting tooth and nail in an epic clash against David Ferrer. Over the course of two days, Ferrer would win in a tough five-setter that showed that Harrison did not quite have the mentality to compete at the top levels but that he would get there someday. Dimitrov was playing top-level tennis against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and looked like he could beat just about anyone in the world. Unfortunately it was not to be his day and Tsonga and his nearly-unbreakable serve prevailed. And Tomic was down two sets to none to Igor Andreev before Andreev faltered and Tomic came back to win in five.

What happened to these players since then? Tomic went on to the quarterfinals where he took a set off of Novak Djokovic. Since then, he has done nothing really of note aside from winning his first career tournament in Sydney right before this year’s Australian Open. Harrison has also not really done much, showing flashes of brilliance amidst a lot of mediocrity and now mostly competing back on the Challenger tour. Dimitrov likewise also faded into relative anonymity, but of the three, has managed to improve with each passing tournament seeing his ranking slowly and steadily rise, week by week.

After Tuesday’s valiant display in Madrid though, Dimitrov is anonymous no more. He battled world no. 1 Novak Djokovic in what turned out to be a flawless and epic match by the Bulgarian in the second round. Dimitrov overcame a few mental hiccups, second-set cramps, and the best opponent in the world in what was without a doubt the biggest win of his young career so far.

Fans (and detractors) of Dimitrov will say that he is finally utilizing his talent. He is blessed with great abilities and has finally sustained the top level that he can play at and won a big match. And, more importantly, this will allow him to move forward and win future big matches and tournaments. The sky is the limit for young Grigor and he proved it by beating the best player in the world.

And I agree; Dimitrov has nowhere to go but up. But the notion that he could have been winning like this for two years now—since he first showed this potential in that Wimbledon match—is foolish. Maybe we have been spoiled by the great players who burst on to the scene at a young age and were there to stay. Maybe we expect the great talents to reach the top 10 as a late teenager or in their early 20s and be a top player for their career.

Not everyone can do what Pete Sampras, Lleyton Hewitt, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and others have done. Not everyone can immediately assert their dominance on a strong tour and do it on a consistent basis. Everyone is waiting for players like Tomic, Harrison, and Dimitrov to suddenly be in every discussion. These insane expectations do nothing but hurt these players.

Tomic and Harrison haven’t really realized this. They pick up flashes of interest by showing flashes of greatness but really don’t do anything noteworthy on a consistent enough basis. They are still young players and have incredible talent, but they are not really moving forward in their careers yet. They are stuck wherever they are, which means being decent players on average that can throw in a great match or run here and there.

Dimitrov, on the other hand, is doing things the right way. He is consistently playing well and getting better and more confident as each season moves along. He almost took a set off Djokovic in March. He came close to beating Nadal in April. And now he has beaten Djokovic in May. This victory, the biggest of his career so far, is not the culmination of many hard years of work nor the showcasing of a great hidden talent. It is just one step on a long, slow, and gradual journey that could someday lead to greatness.