Hot Shot: Grigor Dimitrov's slide volley

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Ten years ago at the Australian Open, I wrote a post for TENNIS.com that I titled “A Grigor Dimitrov Moment.” It was a recap of the young Bulgarian’s first-ever win at a Grand Slam, over Andrey Golubev. Dimitrov was just 19, but many of us had been waiting for what seemed like years for this ultra-talented former junior No. 1 to make a dent at a major. His nickname was Baby Fed, after all.

Implicit in that title was the idea that there would be many more Grigor Dimitrov moments to come. There have been a few over the past decade—his run to the Wimbledon semis in 2014; his classic semifinal loss to Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open in 2017; his win over Roger Federer at the US Open two years later. Overall, though, this likable and watchable player hasn’t quite had the career many of us hoped he would.

Now, seemingly out nowhere, he’s surging again. Dimitrov, who turned 30 in May and is currently ranked No. 28, reached the semifinals in San Diego two weeks ago, and he’s in the semis again at the Masters 1000 in Indian Wells. Over the last 24 hours, he has beaten two of this year’s standout ATP performers, No. 2-ranked Daniil Medvedev and No. 12-ranked Hubert Hurkacz. In both matches, Dimitrov came from a set down and turned a match around that didn’t look it was possible for him to turn around.

“I guess I stayed in the game,” Dimitrov said after his win over Medvedev; the line works equally well as a description of his career at the moment as it does for his victory over the Russian. “I think little by little I was just trying to stay in the game, stay in the moment, and really fight through every opportunity I had. I really had to go for it.”

“I was just trying to stay in the game”: Grigor Dimitrov was determined to do well in the desert.

“I was just trying to stay in the game”: Grigor Dimitrov was determined to do well in the desert.

That’s pretty much how it went for Dimitrov against Hurkacz as well. For a set and a half, he looked a little overmatched in the rallies, and a little weary after his three-setter the day before. As hard as he hit the ball, he couldn’t get it past the lanky and rangy Hurkacz on these slow courts.

But in the middle of the second set, Dimitrov began to find a rhythm and a groove. It began when he played some good defense to reach break point on Hurkacz’s serve at 2-3, and continued when he saved a break point at 3-3 with a nice drop shot-lob combination. By the time Hurkacz was serving at 4-5, the tennis gods were ready to smile on Dimitrov again: His backhand at set point clipped the tape and dropped over to send the match to a decider.

Dimitrov was in full flow in the third set, and all of the old shot-making magic was apparent again. Stab-volley winners, running forehand passes, big crosscourt ground-stroke combinations, even a tweener that nearly won him a point: It was enough to give Dimitrov a 5-2 lead. But not everything had changed. Anyone who has watched him try to serve out big matches in the past knew this one wasn’t over. At 5-3, Dimitrov missed a forehand long at break point, and Hurkacz soon leveled the set at 5-5.

But this time Dimitrov’s groove was too deep to derail. He started the tiebreaker by carving a perfect drop-volley winner, and made no more mistakes from there to earn a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2) win.

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GettyImages-1346628523

“I think coming to California was a very, very particular way the way I was preparing before that,” Dimitrov said. “Even after the tournament in San Diego, I felt like I need to kind of keep on that line. I felt a lot of belief. I felt like I could do some damage out here.

“I always wanted to do well out here…I was very, very determined to come out in the desert and give it all I have.”

Dimitrov said that he had watched a lot of Medvedev’s matches lately, and had been inspired by his success—“I think it really pushes me also to do better.”

Before this tournament started, it looked as if it would be a showcase for the ATP’s younger set. And it still could be. But Dimitrov has knocked out four players who are 24 or younger—Medvedev, Hurkacz, Reilly Opelka and Daniel Altmaier. Rather than feel like he’s over the hill, he’s been motivated to, as he put it, “stay in the game.”

It’s a pleasant surprise, 10 years later after I first wrote it, to be able to write it again: Grigor Dimitrov is having a moment.