Dimitrov enjoying the grass
Originally published on 29/06/16 00:00
When Grigor Dimitrov defeated Bjorn Fratangelo in the first round on Monday, it marked the end of five consecutive first round defeats for the Bulgarian, four of which were against lower-ranked opponents.
It was two years ago when Dimitrov won the Aegon Championships title at Queen’s before storming through to the last four of the Championships, beating Andy Murray in the quarter-finals before falling to Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals.
Curiously it was the No.1 seed who popped his head around the door of the interview room where Dimitrov was telling the assembled press after his first-round match that he didn’t fear anybody.
“Are you sure you’re not?” Djokovic asked. “No. Especially you,” came the quick-witted response from Dimitrov.
By his own admission 2014 was a “fantastic” year, but since breaking into the top 10 following his run at Wimbledon Dimitrov has struggled to emulate his success, and is unseeded at Wimbledon this year, with a current ranking of No.37.
“I'm very happy when I start striking the ball the way I was striking it today, and I think my confidence also is getting back after playing matches like today,” Dimitrov said after his 6-3 6-4 6-2 victory over Fratangelo.
Currently with 19 wins and 14 defeats for the season, Dimitrov has been putting the work in on the practice court. He does not attribute the poor form to anything specific. He does, however, like playing on grass and he particularly likes playing at Wimbledon, having won the boys’ title at SW19 in 2008.
“I remember the first time I came I had barely hit a ball on grass, and the following year I won Wimbledon as a junior,” he recalled.
“This is where tennis starts,” he said of the All England Club. “I think every player feels very special out here. Even guys that never liked playing on grass are coming here, and saying, ‘Oh, it's so nice’.”
The consequences of being ranked outside the top 30 is both the scheduling of the match courts and the fact that he will now meet a seeded player in the second round. He meets No.16 seed Gilles Simon on Wednesday.
“It sucks, you know, I must say. It's been a while since I haven't been seeded,” Dimitrov admitted.
However, the former world No.8 was quick to see the silver lining of playing his first round match on Court 16.
“I played my first round there as a junior before I won the tournament,” he said. “So I took it as a good sign, to be honest, like a good omen.”
Defeat to Janko Tipsarevic in the first round of the Aegon Championships was a sixth successive defeat for Dimitrov, so victory over Fratangelo was an important boost.
“I think mentally I'm always prepared coming on grass,” he said. “I'm very happy to play right now. And I think when you're happy, things are just happening.”
Dimitrov and Simon have met on six previous occasions with the Frenchman winning five of those meetings, including the most recent encounter in Monte Carlo, where Simon won in straight sets.
“Obviously he's a tricky guy on any surface,” Dimitrov said of his next opponent. “I need to definitely bring my A game, but at the same time I'm pretty confident that my game is going to be good enough to beat him.”
The match is scheduled as the second match on No.1 Court and if the Bulgarian causes the kind of upset of which he is capable, his army of personal admirers, as well as those who love watching his single-handed backhand would relish seeing him in the third round of his favourite tournament.
If he had a really good run here the 25-year-old might see cheeky Djokovic again, not around the door of a press room, but across the net on a showcourt for a semi-final. A lot of people would like to see that and the Bulgarian would of course be fearless.
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