Tennis: Grigor Dimitrov to ease his way back after injury-hit 2019

Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov hits a forehand return during a training session in Sydney on Jan 2, 2020.
Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov hits a forehand return during a training session in Sydney on Jan 2, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) - Former world No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov saw his ranking slump last year as he struggled with a shoulder injury, but the Bulgarian on Thursday (Jan 2) said he will not push himself too hard, too fast to return to the top of tennis.

The 28-year-old was laid low early in the season and was far from his best after he returned to action, although he did reach the US Open and Paris Masters semi-finals.

Dimitrov said 2019, where he failed to win a title, had been "quite a journey".

"It's going to be a year that I remember for the rest of my life," he said in Sydney ahead of the inaugural ATP Cup team event, his warm-up for the Australian Open Grand Slam.

"Yeah, the body checks out pretty good right now. I'm still monitoring a lot of my work, a lot that I'm going through.

"I kind of pace myself in the right way. I'm not in a rush, which is also a good thing."

The shoulder problem was Dimitrov's first major injury and he said he plans to limit the number of tournaments he plays, particularly early in the season.

"I'm not going to force myself to play too many tournaments early on and really look after the body. That's the number one thing," said Dimitrov, now ranked 20.

"Clearly I haven't competed for almost the past four months of the year, and so that itself brought a lot of doubts, and dropping a lot in the ranking and so on.

"But at the same time, I was able to kind of recover as quick as possible, and hopefully now I'm at a place that can only get better. I'm really going to focus on that."

He is not only playing for Bulgaria at the ATP Cup, but captaining the team, a new experience that he is relishing.

"It's challenging, no doubt about it," he said. "It's always been a dream of mine to always be kind of on the other end, and I think to be a coach is never easy.

"I don't know if I'm going to be a good coach. I can only share my experience, my thoughts with the guys."

The ATP Cup, which starts Friday, features 24 nations split into six groups across Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, with eight of them emerging from the round-robin to compete in the knockout phase.