It took a while, but so what? That is the nature of the beast that is the current era of men’s professional tennis. Instant superstardom and teenaged Grand Slam champions are things of the past. Stanislas Wawrinka just won his first major title at 28 years old. Tomas Berdych, also 28, is playing the best tennis of his life and up to a career-high ranking of No. 5 in the world. A much-improved Marin Cilic is showing his best stuff at 25. Same goes for the 25-year-old Ernests Gulbis, whose head finally seems to be out of his derriere and at least somewhere near the vicinity of his shoulders.
By those standards, Grigor Dimitrov is ahead of his time. At 22 years old, the Bulgarian has climbed to a career-best mark of 16th in the world. In the past 11 months, Dimitrov has reached the quarters of a Masters 1000 (Monte-Carlo), upset then-world No. 1 Novak Djokovic at another Masters 1000 (Madrid), captured an indoor hard-court title (Stockolm) by beating David Ferrer in the final, advanced to his first slam quarterfinal (Australian Open), and triumphed at a 500-point event (last weekend in Acapulco).
But it was not always this way. Like many others before him and sure to be many others after him, Dimitrov endured his fair share of issues both on and off the court in the early stages of his career.
In 2011, when he was 19 and 20 years old (still young, but also many moons after being baptized as “Baby Fed,” or the next Roger Federer), Dimitrov lost to someone named Denis Bloemke. He also lost to Karol Beck, Denis Kudla, Rajeev Ram, and Alex Bogomolov. He retired from two matches in 2012, one to someone named Adam Feeney and another at Wimbledon. Dimitrov’s fitness had been called into question early and often, mainly due to an inability to win long matches. He did not reach the third round of a Grand Slam until last season’s French Open and he is 2-3 lifetime in five-setters, with one of those victories coming in lower-level Davis Cup action.
In 2010, he shoved a chair umpire after losing a match at the Helsinki Challenger
He kicked off his 2012 campaign at the Hopman Cup with an incident involving Mardy Fish that spanned across two different matches:
At last year’s French Open, he could not even walk after a grueling rally against Richard Gasquet (in fairness to Dimitrov, he at least declined to use the crushed brick of Roland Garros as his personal barf bag):
That’s all well and good for entertainment value, but Dimitrov has now reached “must-watch” status every time he takes the court for all the right reasons. He is 11-3 this season with his only losses coming against Cilic, Gulbis, and Rafael Nadal (that trio boasts a combined record of 46-9 in 2014). More impressive is the way in which he has compiled those 11 wins. In Melbourne he recovered from a set down against Bradley Klahn, won a third-set tiebreaker 13-11 over Yen-Hsun Lu, beat Milos Raonic 12-10 in a fourth-set tiebreaker, and prevailed in another four-setter over Roberto Bautista Agut. In Acapulco, he outlasted Gulbis 4-6, 7-6(2), 7-5 then survived consecutive third-set tiebreakers against Andy Murray and Kevin Anderson. A three-day span saw Dimitrov spend eight hours and 33 minutes on court without losing a single match.
Kiss concerns over possible mental and physical shortcomings goodbye…and give some of the thanks to Roger Rasheed in the process!
http://t.co/yv7Mn9baZW Pleasure mate - thanks for the effort you gave. Well deserved.. Let's move forward..👍—
roger rasheed (@roger_rasheed) March 02, 2014
roger rasheed (@roger_rasheed) March 02, 2014
Dimitrov’s shot-making ability, of course, has never been a concern.
In the fall of 2012, he came up with “the shot of the year”:
Who cares he lost this 2014 Australian Open point against Nadal, because Dimitrov hit a tweener lob in the process:
He won an outrageous point against Murray in last weekend’s Acapulco semis, during which he fell to the ground:
Plus, you never know what he is going to do at the net after a match. No, his kissing is not limited to girlfriend Maria Sharapova:
Rock-star status may not be what’s on Dimitrov’s mind now that he is taking tennis seriously and storming up the rankings, but rock star is what he is and what he’s going to be. He dates Sharapova, takes ice-baths with Murray, and wears sombreros like a boss.
Baby Fed? Not fair to either Federer or Dimitrov. Showtime? Yup.
Although Sharapova enthusiasts may want to see Showtime’s after-hours program, his primetime slots on the tennis court will no longer disappoint.