Grigor Dimitrov made history this season by becoming the first Bulgarian player to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals. The world #6 impressed the O2 crowd with a debut victory over Dominic Thiem, displaying great mental strength. He was ruthless in his second round robin match where he destroyed David Goffin for the loss of two games.
I attended the Dimitrov match against Goffin and I was very impressed with how well suited the Bulgarian is to the quick indoor courts in London. When watching live tennis in the stadium you are able to read much more into the dynamics of the match than you would be able to viewing on television. Three aspects of Grigor Dimitrov’s game really stood out to me and these components will serve him well on his quest to win a first ATP Finals title of his career.
1. Aggressive Court Position
The first aspect that caught my attention was how assertive the 26-year-old was with his court position. Dimitrov was dictating play by playing smart tennis close to the baseline. This allowed him to keep Goffin on the back foot and it immediately placed the match in Dimitrov’s hands. On serve, the Bulgarian refused to be pushed back and he used his positioning to move Goffin all over the court with ease. This is a tactic that works extremely well on fast courts because it is difficult to defend on so if you are able to get the first strike in the rally you are almost certain to win the point.
On return, the Bulgarian was taking all of Goffin’s serves on or inside the baseline, which put the Belgium under all sorts of pressure. On only the second point of the Goffin serve, Dimitrov hit a ferocious forehand return winner, which sent a message down to the other end of the court that the match will be played on his terms. On virtually every point the Bulgarian was on the front foot due to his court position and his opponent was reverted to scramble from behind the baseline. If Grigor Dimitrov can employ this tactic in his remaining matches he will give himself a huge chance to lift the trophy on Sunday.
Another component of the Cincinnati champion’s game that impressed me was his variety. The Bulgarian is so talented and it was great to see him use the full potential of his game against Goffin. Dimitrov was able to mix a powerful, flat strike with his forehand, and a slow, skidding slice with his backhand. This caused havoc for the Belgium as he was constantly receiving different types of shots which discombobulated him. Goffin is a very technically sound player that enjoys rhythm but Dimitrov was able to outmanoeuvre him with his variety.
The slice works extremely well on this particular court because it is fairly low bouncing. There were numerous times during the match that Dimitrov received a short, central ball because Goffin was forced to hit up on the ball more than he would like. The only options Goffin had to return the slice was to take a risk and send it up the line (where Dimitrov will be lining up a forehand), or aim it in the narrow space cross court back to the Bulgarian’s backhand and play into his hands. This particular pattern of play will be extremely beneficial for Dimitrov on the quick indoor courts of the O2 Arena.
The World #6 has always been an exceptional mover around the court. His movement was the difference in the Cincinnati final against Nick Kyrgios, where he was able to retrieve so many balls back into play. This was the case again against Goffin, where the Belgium was forced to hit three or four outstanding shots to break the Dimitrov defensive wall. The Bulgarian is up at the top of the game in terms of pure athleticism and he is one of the most flexible players on tour. He is also able to slide effectively on hard courts and he still manages to recover rapidly which reduces the space his opponents can exploit.
It was a nightmare for David Goffin because he spent the majority of the match on the back foot due to the aggressive court position his opponent held. On the very few occasions that the Belgian was able to assert himself in the rally, Dimitrov was getting everything back with interest which either extracted an error from Goffin, or the Bulgarian was able to turn defence into attack and turn the point around. Extraordinary movement is what allows Grigor Dimitrov to be an effective all-court player and this may help him find a way to win the title here in London.
The 6-0, 6-2 demolition job against Goffin means that the World #6 has qualified for the semifinals of the ATP Finals – an impressive achievement considering it is his debut. Dimitrov can only meet Roger Federer (the firm favorite) in the final, so there is a massive opportunity for the Bulgarian superstar. If he is able to clinch the title here, then he will finish the year as the world #3. Grigor Dimitrov’s game is tailor made for these courts and his aggressive court position, variety, and movement will boost his chances to win the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals.