The 2017 ATP tennis season will go down as the most unpredictable, invigorating, and exciting season for so many reasons. For one man in particular, this marked his introduction as a genuine contender on the big stage. When Grigor Dimitrov reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 2014 before losing to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in a tight four-setter, few would have believed the extraordinary turn of events in the next 12 months for the then-23-year-old Bulgarian who was steady on the rise.
There was no denying Grigor Dimitrov’s abilities. He had previously walked down the same itinerary as the man he is so often likened to, having won the Wimbledon Juniors title in 2008. Dimitrov has modeled his game to that of 19-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer, which earned him the nickname “Baby Fed,” but the Bulgarian has often seen himself as a completely different player. Having laid the foundation following two brilliant seasons that included a stunning three-set win over Djokovic in Madrid, demolishing Andy Murray in straight sets at Wimbledon, and winning four ATP titles, he was tipped to be the man bestowed with the keys to unlock the Big Four’s giant door.
But as all that success sunk in, his potential came crashing down. Dimitrov flattered to deceive, as he was expected to be tennis’ next generation superstar. A dramatic loss of form compounded with parting ways with coach Roger Rasheed, Dimitrov finished the 2015 season ranked at #28, having at one point during the season broken inside the top 10. His resurgence late in the 2016 season was evident as he began the 2017 season in stunning style. He captured the title in Brisbane and went on to equal his career best achievement in a Grand Slam earlier this year, when he lost to Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open in an absorbing five-set encounter.
That defeat in Melbourne sparked Dimitrov’s renaissance. He won the Sofia Open in his home country Bulgaria, a first Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati, and perhaps the crown jewel was the moment David Goffin’s stop volley hit the net, and Dimitrov fell to the floor, and tearfully celebrated a potentially career defining moment. After two and half hours of high octane tennis, the Bulgarian etched his name as the winner of the Nitto ATP finals on his debut appearance at The O2–the biggest title of his career, and a generous $2.5 million in prize money for being faultless during the entire 7-day period in London.
Dimitrov was, and still is, the highest ranked Bulgarian male tennis player ever, and he is now in unchartered waters as the new World No. 3, a position that merits his outstanding talent and his most successful year on tour. Dimitrov received a congratulatory message from the country’s President shortly after Sunday’s win, and the Mayor of his hometown wants to name the tennis courts after him. The 26-year-old is one of the most prominent athletes in Bulgaria, and he is almost guaranteed a hero’s welcome on his return. It is now not a claim that Dimitrov is coming; but it is fair to say he has arrived.
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