Dimitrov takes down Rublev to avenge U.S. Open loss

Grigor Dimitrov bowed out of last summer’s U.S. Open in a surprising upset loss to Andrey Rublev. It’s fair to say the Bulgarian learned from his mistakes.

Dimitrov obviously took notes from that 2017 setback and turned in a smarter and all-around better performance, getting revenge on Rublev 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in round three of the Australian Open on Friday evening. Despite not being quite at his very best like he was this past fall when he won the Nitto ATP Finals, Dimitrov overcame a dreadful serving day to prevail in three hours and four minutes.

There were plenty of momentum swings in the rematch, contrary to what the relative straightforward scoreline by the standards of a four-setter might suggest. In fact, all of the first three sets were won by the man who initially trailed by a break of serve. Dimitrov bounced back from behind to take the first third, while Rublev’s second-set success came following an early 2-0 deficit.

Even the fourth provided plenty of pressure-packed moments even though just a single service break in Dimitrov’s favor was enough to decide it. The 20-year-old Russian failed to convert break points in the sixth and 10th games, but he also did well to fight off break points in each of his first three service games to stay within striking distance throughout the fourth. A clutch hold by Dimitrov 5-4 in which he saved two break points pushed him past the finish line.

Highlights:

It was a fitting end to the match: Dimitrov struggling on serve, double-faulting every which way, but surviving. The world No. 3 was plagued by 15 total double-faults throughout the battle.

“I’m not going to give any excuses right now,” Dimitrov commented. “It was just not a good day for me serving-wise. I tried to change the way I was tossing the ball or serving throughout the whole match, but just didn’t work; just didn’t work. I have to accept it and move on. Fifteen double-faults–that’s absolutely unacceptable.

“When [a shot] fails you, you kind of go on to the next one. (The) serve, for example, failed me. (So) what are the other options? The one thing I’m very happy with is I feel I have a big arsenal of tools to kind of deal with any circumstances out there. That gives me a bit of an advantage.”

The 2017 Aussie Open semifinalist’s variety is exactly what got him through this one–and the lack of it was exactly why he lost to Rublev last summer. In New York City, Dimitrov tried to beat the underdog at his own game: big hitting, bigger hitting, biggest hitting. He also directed far too many shots at the Rublev forehand. This time, Dimitrov mixed in a whole arsenal of slices–almost all of which were slithered to Rublev’s backhand.

It worked. And it worked so well that the third seed managed to beat a red-hot opponent (Rublev finished runner-up in Doha earlier this month) despite coming off a grueling five-set thriller against qualifier Mackenzie McDonald on Wednesday night.

“I recovered well,” Dimitrov assured. “Obviously today was another tough test for me. I just had to find a way again; simple as that. At least the game was a little bit better than the previous match. Yeah, I just played out there today…. I was happy that everything went my way.”

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