Dimitrov's breakthrough year

Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov in action against Belgian David Goffin on Wednesday. The world No. 6, who has enjoyed the best year of his career with three titles and a last-four place at the Australian Open, will be in the semi-finals of the ATP Finals
Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov in action against Belgian David Goffin on Wednesday. The world No. 6, who has enjoyed the best year of his career with three titles and a last-four place at the Australian Open, will be in the semi-finals of the ATP Finals tomorrow.PHOTO: REUTERS

Early Federer comparisons led to overhype but world No. 6 has finally come into his own

LONDON • Grigor Dimitrov insists he is no longer playing in Roger Federer's shadow after he capped the best year of his chequered career by reaching the last four at the ATP Finals.

When Dimitrov, 26, first burst onto the scene by winning the junior Wimbledon title in 2008, his immaculate one-handed back-hand and flamboyant stroke-play earned instant comparisons with Swiss great Federer.

But he struggled to live up to the hype and, amid doubts about his desire, often found himself written off as a serial underachiever.

For a while, Dimitrov's playboy lifestyle meant he was better known for his spell as the boyfriend of former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova than for anything he accomplished on the court.

But, having finally shaken off his demons, he has become the first Bulgarian to qualify for the season-ending Tour Finals after reaching a career-high sixth in the ATP rankings earlier this month.

He has enjoyed victories over Dominic Thiem and David Goffin, the Belgian was crushed 6-0, 6-2 on Wednesday, to book his place in the semi-finals at London's O2 Arena.

Asked if he felt free of the Federer comparisons at last, Dimitrov said: "I think the comparisons, they don't really matter any more.

"As I said before, I'm saying it now, I'm really looking after my game and what I'm doing right.

"I think one of the wrong things you can do is to try to follow somebody else or follow in the footsteps, the things that they have done."

It has been a long road to redemption for Dimitrov.

Even when he beat Andy Murray en route to his first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon in 2014, he could not summon up the consistency needed to sustain his place at the highest level.

He failed to make the last eight of the next nine Grand Slams and entered this year at a crossroads. Another season of failure might have consigned him to the scrapheap.

But he has been revitalised under the guidance of coach Dani Vallverdu, who had previously worked with former world No. 1 Murray and joined Dimitrov's team in August last year.

The Bulgarian ended a two-and-a-half year title drought by winning tournaments in Brisbane, Sofia and Cincinnati, the latter in a Masters 1000 event that ranks as the biggest prize of his career.

Dimitrov also made it back to the last four at a Grand Slam, pushing Rafael Nadal to five sets before losing a classic encounter at the Australian Open.

"Dani Vallverdu deserves a lot of credit. He came into the team at a crucial moment," Dimitrov said.

"Without that, I wouldn't be the same guy."

Despite Wednesday's defeat, Goffin will face Thiem today for a place in the semi-finals after the Austrian beat Pablo Carreno Busta, who was drafted into the draw following his fellow Spaniard Nadal's withdrawal, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2017, with the headline 'Dimitrov's breakthrough year'. Print Edition | Subscribe