Dim­itrov primed for ma­jor break­through

The Weekend Australian - - TENNIS - AAP

Grigor Dim­itrov is in­tent on seiz­ing the mo­ment and ush­er­ing in a new era of men’s ten­nis as he heads the queue of un­ful­filled tal­ents chas­ing Aus­tralian Open glory at Mel­bourne Park.

The Bul­gar­ian world No 3 has long been hailed as the most likely to lead a chang­ing of the guard and, af­ter com­ing of age with vic­tory at the 2017 ATP Tour Fi­nals in Lon­don, Dim­itrov is primed to end the decade-and-ahalf-long dom­i­nance of the so­called Big Four of ten­nis.

Be­tween them, grand slam gi­ants Roger Fed­erer (19), Rafael Nadal (16), No­vak Djokovic (12) and Andy Mur­ray (3) have amassed an ex­tra­or­di­nary 50 ma­jor cham­pi­onships since 2003.

Throw in three for Stan Wawrinka and that leaves slim pick­ings for their chal­lengers, with 2005 Open cham­pion Marat Safin and one-slam won­ders Andy Rod­dick (2003), Gas­ton Gau­dio (2004), Juan Martin del Potro (2009) and Marin Cilic (2014) the only oth­ers to find a seat at the ta­ble since Fed­erer’s Wim­ble­don break­through 15 years ago.

In­cred­i­bly, Nadal, at 31, and 36year-old Fed­erer are back as the top seeds in Mel­bourne for the first time since 2011, af­ter sweep­ing all four slams last sea­son.

But with Mur­ray re­cov­er­ing from hip surgery and Djokovic and Wawrinka un­der se­ri­ous fit­ness clouds hav­ing not played since Wim­ble­don, op­por­tu­nity knocks for third-seeded Dim­itrov, 20-year-old world No 4 Alexan­der Zverev and Aus­tralia’s big hope Nick Kyr­gios.

The trio, along with Cana­dian prodigy De­nis Shapo­valov, Korean Hyeon Chung, Rus­sian dy­namos An­drey Rublev, Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov, Croa­tia’s next-gen star Borna Coric head the list of po­ten­tial grand slam cham­pi­ons of the near fu­ture.

At 26, Dim­itrov is ap­proach­ing the peak of his pow­ers and hopes his time starts now. A year af­ter fall­ing two games short of a dream fi­nal against Fed­erer, Dim­itrov knows the Open tro­phy is up for grabs. “When you see those type of op­por­tu­ni­ties, you need to be able to seize them,” he said. “It’s no point to say I could have done it or not. This is in front of you, this is what you have … and this is the mo­ment for me to grab the op­por­tu­nity. I’ve done those ex­tra miles. The legs feel good so it’s all about putting it in on the court now.”

Dim­itrov’s first stern test is likely to come against Kyr­gios in a po­ten­tial fourth-round block­buster.

Af­ter los­ing to the gifted but com­bustible Can­ber­ran in the semi-fi­nals of the sea­son-open­ing Bris­bane In­ter­na­tional, Dim­itrov is wary of Kyr­gios. “It was a very in­ter­est­ing match. I thought I had ev­ery­thing un­der con­trol but then af­ter that first set, ev­ery­thing kind of slipped away from me,” Dim­itrov said. “He slashed a few shots and got his be­lief back, I guess, and he started serv­ing un­be­liev­able.

“So for me af­ter that I tried to do ev­ery­thing I can to get into the rally but there was pretty much no rallies at all. “Of course well de­served for him. That’s a great start to the year for him and he’s def­i­nitely a con­tender now.”

GETTY IMAGES

Bul­garia’s Grigor Dim­itrov prac­tis­ing at Mel­bourne Park

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