Could Dim­itrov or Zverev be the new Wiz­ard of Oz?

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - RACING -

GRIGOR DIM­ITROV and Alexan­der Zverev, two men who made per­haps the big­gest steps for­ward in 2017, be­lieve they are ready to con­tend for the ti­tle at the Australian Open, which be­gins in Mel­bourne tomorrow.

Dim­itrov starts the year ranked third, hav­ing won his big­gest ti­tle in Novem­ber when he tri­umphed at the ATP Tour Fi­nals at the O2 Arena in Lon­don.

Ger­many’s Zverev won five ti­tles in 2017, in­clud­ing two Mas­ters 1000 ti­tles, fin­ish­ing the year just be­hind Dim­itrov as the world num­ber four.

Be­sides world num­ber one Rafael Nadal and de­fend­ing cham­pion Roger Fed­erer, Dim­itrov and Zverev are con­sid­ered gen­uine ti­tle threats.

How­ever, Bul­gar­ian Dim­itrov, a semi-fi­nal­ist in Mel­bourne 12 months ago, is try­ing not to get ahead of him­self. “Un­til it’s done, I don’t want to have any (sixth) sense, to be hon­est,” he said in Mel­bourne yes­ter­day.

“Ob­vi­ously I’ve achieved cer­tain things that I’ve al­ways wanted to. I al­ways wanted to be a top-five player. I did it. I wanted to win a Mas­ters 1000 event and I did it. I haven’t dreamt that much about win­ning at the O2, but I did it.”

Dim­itrov ad­mit­ted it was a dif­fer­ent feel­ing to see him­self as the third seed in a Grand Slam event, but that the hard work was still to be done.

“It doesn’t mean any­thing,” he said. “Of course, I’m pretty happy and ex­cited with what I have achieved. Ob­vi­ously, I have high ex­pec­ta­tions of my­self. I want to do the best that I can.”

Zverev emerged from the pack in 2017 with his five ti­tles, in­clud­ing Mas­ters 1000 vic­to­ries at Rome and Mon­treal.

The only thing lack­ing from the Ger­man’s list of hon­ours is suc­cess at the Grand Slams, hav­ing only made it to the last 16 just once, at Wim­ble­don last sum­mer.

“I think im­prov­ing the Grand Slam per­for­mances is one thing I need,” he said.

“The fur­thest I’ve got was to the fourth round of Wim­ble­don. A lot of times not be­cause I played bad, but be­cause I played very good op­po­nents.

“I lost to Nadal here. I lost to (Mi­los) Raonic in Wim­ble­don. Ev­ery time in five sets. That’s noth­ing to worry about too much. But ob­vi­ously that’s one goal for me this year.”

Zverev, who is now coached by for­mer world num­ber one Juan Car­los Fer­rero, said he had no doubts about his abil­ity. “I’ve showed on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions over the year that I can play and beat the best guys in the world,” he said.

“I mean, I’m num­ber four in the world for a rea­son. Not try­ing to sound cocky or any­thing, but I’ve al­ways said that I’ve al­ways been work­ing hard phys­i­cally, I’m al­ways try­ing to im­prove the per­for­mance at the grand slams. Hope­fully I can do so this week.”

Si­mona Halep en­ters the Australian Open with the world num­ber one rank­ing and a fa­mil­iar set of doubts over her abil­ity to win a Grand Slam.

With Ser­ena Wil­liams on ma­ter­nity leave for most of 2017, the 26-year-old Halep had her best chance for a break­through at the ma­jors but ended the year empty-handed again, with a sec­ond French Open fi­nal de­feat af­ter an­other near miss in 2014.

The num­ber one rank­ing was some con­so­la­tion af­ter years bat­tling at the top of the game, but Halep will be mind­ful of the many women be­fore her who have ended up as care­tak­ers at the top dur­ing Wil­liams’s ab­sences from the tour.

A few of them, like sec­ond seed Caro­line Woz­ni­acki and Je­lena Jankovic, held and lost the rank­ing with­out ever win­ning one of the four ma­jor tro­phies.

“I have one more goal: to win a grand slam,” the Ro­ma­nian 26-year-old said yes­ter­day. “But now I’m fo­cus­ing on my game. I re­ally want to get bet­ter and to im­prove in what I had less good.”

Get­ting bet­ter at Mel­bourne Park would just be a mat­ter of reach­ing the sec­ond round. She was the first seed dumped out of last year’s tour­na­ment, los­ing in straight sets to un­fan­cied Amer­i­can Shelby Rogers.

It was the sec­ond suc­ces­sive year of be­ing knocked out at the first hur­dle, re­in­forc­ing a rep­u­ta­tion of men­tal fragility at the big­gest tour­na­ments.

As top seed, ex­pec­ta­tions will be higher this time round and the at­ten­tion greater, which makes her split with ap­parel spon­sor Adi­das all the more mys­ti­fy­ing.

She will com­pete at Mel­bourne Park with­out a brand af­ter her man­age­ment were un­able to agree to terms on an ex­ten­sion with Adi­das.

“Yeah, my peo­ple are work­ing for me on this stuff,” she said. “I have no con­tract now. I’m still with no brand clothes.”

In a thor­oughly modern sourc­ing ar­range­ment, Halep found a Chi­nese com­pany on the In­ter­net to make her an out­fit and they pro­duced one within 24 hours af­ter she sent them a pic­ture of what she wanted.

She wore the red dress to vic­tory at this month’s Shen­zhen Open and will wear it again at Mel­bourne Park.

But the no-non­sense Ro­ma­nian dis­missed a sug­ges­tion that she might start her own cloth­ing line like Ser­ena’s older sis­ter Venus Wil­liams. “No. I’m not that type of per­son,” she said. – Reuters

GROW­ING REP­U­TA­TIONS: Grigor Dim­itrov, left, and Alexan­der Zverev

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