As a highly-qualified spotter of dark horses John McEnroe is on record with the opinion that if none of the Big Four wins Wimbledon this year the title could go to the fast-rising Bulgarian, Grigor Dimitrov.
That forecast still holds good after Dimitrov’s fitness and determination pulled him through a gripping five-setter against Alexandr Dolgopolov of the Ukraine 6-7(3), 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 in two hours 55 minutes of brutally contested hitting on No.1 Court.
Trailing two sets to one, Dimitrov’s prospects looked bleak but he gradually wore down Dolgopolov and ran away with the fifth set in a flurry of aces to become the first man from his country to progress to the last 16 at The Championships.
Seeded No. 11th here, Dimitrov is a form horse as well as a dark one, having captured his first grass court title at Queen’s two weeks ago. The 23-year-old has recently attracted more public attention (and admiration) as the boyfriend of Maria Sharapova but more performances like this will persuade many to share McEnroe’s high opinion. He withstood a battering from an opponent whose serving was at times inspirational, replied with brilliant play of his own in this department and, when it mattered as the match approach a third hour of strength-sapping exchanges, he struck hard.
The opening set was indicative of what was to follow, with only two of the 12 games extending to deuce, a mere three break points (all to the Ukrainian), and a tie-break which Dolgopolov deservedly dominated.
There were anxious faces in Dimitrov’s courtside box as their man continued to battle in vain for a break, or a change of luck. But the newly-emerging Grigor turned frowns to jubilation when, in the seventh game of the second set, he finally earned his first break points of the match and was rewarded as a shocked Dolgopolov double-faulted. Two solid service games ensured the contest was back to square one but the Ukrainian promptly showed that much mileage remained in this contest.
Dimitrov, it has to be said, was of considerable assistance in this respect when three double-faults in rapid succession gifted Dolgopolov an early break in the third set and he kept his nose – and his racket – in front despite several instances of net cord points going against him and he struck again to break for a second time, and take that third set, with a terrific running forehand which arrowed down the line.
At this, both men sought relief from the intensity of it all by taking a toilet break and though Dimitrov was not to know it, he would not concede another loss of serve for the rest of the afternoon.
The turning point for Dimitrov came in the ninth game of the fourth set when, on his third break point, he floated a high forehand which Dolgopolov opted to let go, thinking it was long. Instead, it plopped onto the baseline, the momentum was suddenly with Dimitrov and he levelled at two sets all with an ace.
A Bulgarian was jubilant, a Ukrainian downcast – and also fast running out of steam. The fifth set was over in 18 minutes, with Dimitrov unleashing five aces, three of them in one game. When a crunching forehand ended it, Dimitrov fell to his knees, rose to hurl his shirt into the crowd and indulged in a frenzied bout of fist pumping.
He paid tribute to Dolgopolov as “a tricky opponent” and admitted that for much of the match “the only thing I could do was stay in there and fight, but as soon as I got that break in the fifth set I knew I could close it out at last.
“I just felt physically very strong and I knew that the longer the match went the better chance I had of winning it.
Today I felt inspired even though I had a few downs. I am proving myself not only as a player, but also as a person outside the court. I want to create my own legend, my own trademark.”
As for the words of John McEnroe, Dimitrov agreed, “It is nice to hear that, but I just want to make my own way with my team around me and focus on what I have to do, not paying much attention to anything else.”
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
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