In hiring American tennis legend Andre Agassi, Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov has clearly set out his stall for the 2019 tennis season. But will such ambitions be backed up by stellar performances he has often promised but so rarely produced. James Spencer takes a look.
Dimitrov was once seen as the next big thing in tennis. A future world number one. Future Grand Slam champion. But at 27 years old, “Grisha” as he is popularly known in Bulgaria, or “Baby Fed” as he was once dubbed, has failed to deliver on the early promise so many had foreseen for him.
In 2014, Dimitrov won Queens Club saving match points against Spain’s Feliciano Lopez, then impressively overcoming defending champion Andy Murray at Wimbledon before losing in the semi-finals to Novak Djokovic.
Dimitrov then went into a lull, slipping as low as 42 in the world, and so began a long disappearance into the tennis wilderness before a brilliant fightback in 2017.
His life is often highly publicised away from the tennis court having dated female tennis stars such as Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. He is now romancing with Nicole Scherzinger.
However, such off-court distractions have not helped his tennis. It is this commitment that makes people question whether he can finally win a Grand Slam.
Dimitrov made the semi-finals of the Australian Open two years ago and nearly beat Rafael Nadal along the way. The tennis he played that day before going down in five sets, suggested he has the quality to win Grand Slam.
The Bulgarian then won the Cincinnati Masters and a first Masters 1000 title in what turned out to be a true breakthrough season.
That year he even went undefeated on his debut at the ATP Tour Finals clinching the biggest title of his career.
The media hype that followed was that Dimitrov was set to dominate the tennis landscape.
However, the opposite happened. His form dipped considerably in 2018 as the former world number three’s ranking plummeted. Subsequently, he finished outside the world’s top 20 and unable to defend his ATP Finals crown.
At the end of last season, Dimitrov began working with Andre Agassi, who is assisting head coach Dani Valverdu, a former mentor of Andy Murray. It will be very interesting to see how this partnership goes.
Agassi, history must record, enjoyed little success in his previous coaching role with Novak Djokovic. The question is, will this time be different?
Although Djokovic didn’t respond to his coaching style, Dimitrov is a younger player and that may make him easier to coach. If he is willing to put in the hard work.
Dimitrov has made the fourth round with relative ease and will face a tough showdown against American Frances Tiafoe.
The Bulgarian has a relatively clear path to the quarter-finals, though, where he could play the man that so narrowly ended his hopes of a first Grand Slam final two years ago, Rafael Nadal.
You never know, but this tournament may have come too soon for Dimitrov.
This is Dimitrov’s least favourite surface. There are other clay court specialists like Alexander Zverev, David Goffin, Nadal and Thiem that are much stronger than Dimitrov on the red dirt, so it may be too big an ask, even with Agassi in his team, for him to compete with the best on clay this soon, or indeed ever.
Dimitrov has long been hailed as a future Wimbledon champion. The way he moves and glides across the grass, with a similar playing style to Federer, means he cannot be underestimated.
If some of the top four crash out early, he could definitely mount a challenge at Wimbledon and possibly win it one day. Should he hit any kind of form going into a summer, Dimitrov will rightly be at the top of everyone’s ‘dark horses’ list.
Dimitrov is proven on the hard courts but many players are equally as good if not better equipped on the surface.
By the time the US Open swings around this year, it will be clearer if Agassi’s methods are successful and bear fruit. However, Wimbledon is still Dimitrov’s best shot at a Grand Slam.
Dimitrov needs to dramatically improve on his dismal 2018 campaign. He will be hoping that Agassi’s champion mentality is ingrained quickly but everything is on the Bulgarian to deliver.
Clearly the jury’s out on whether he has the commitment to finally win a Grand Slam, but Dimitrov’s attempts at a resurgence under the guidance of Agassi promises to be one of the most watchable sub-plots of the season.
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