Dimitrov primed for major breakthrough
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.”
Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov practising at Melbourne Park