Grigor Dimitrov is a dark horse for the 2017 Australian Open title. How you would have been laughed at for making such a claim around a month ago given the struggles the Bulgarian endured in 2016. Fast forward to the beginning of this year however and the man once dubbed “Baby Fed” looks to have turned a corner. A four sets win over wildcard Dennis Istomin means the #15 seed finds himself in a first grand slam quarter-final since 2014.
This newly rejuvenated Dimitrov has emerged since the start of the new season . He produced a string of impressive displays to capture the title at the Brisbane International. Moreover, on his way to victory he defeated three top ten players – Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori.
By doing this the Bulgarian managed to win his first ATP title since Queen’s in 2014. Not only that, he now finds himself unbeaten in 2017 having won all nine of his matches.
This is already a far cry from the Dimitrov of last season. A player whose ranking plummeted, was unseeded at Wimbledon and had an infamous meltdown in Istanbul . He also never made it past the fourth round of any grand slam.
Grigor Dimitrov back on track to fulfil Grand Slam potential
He may have dropped a couple of sets, but Dimitrov has looked in fine fettle in Melbourne. The Bulgarian brushed aside Richard Gasquet in straight sets in round three despite only winning one of the previous six meetings between the pair.
He has also experienced a stroke of luck in Melbourne. With Novak Djokovic succumbing to a surprise defeat in round two Dimitrov avoided a potentially difficult test in the fourth round. Instead he had the less daunting task of facing a fatigued Istomin which was without a doubt a preferable route to the quarter-finals.
Next up for the in-form Bulgarian is David Goffin. The latter is also in good form, which helped him overcome world #8 Dominic Thiem in the previous round. It’s sure to be an interesting tussle between the two, particularly as they have practiced together during the off-season. Goffin has never defeated Dimitrov, but they also haven’t met for over two years.
Of course Dimitrov will be focusing on his match against the Belgian, but were he to be successful his reward would be a semi-final against either Rafael Nadal or Milos Raonic. Moreover, if he and Raonic progressed Dimitrov would surely take significant confidence from his victory over the Canadian in Brisbane.
Dimitrov, as well as everyone else left in the draw, knows that the absence of six of the top eight seeds presents a rare opportunity. Without a doubt the likes of Federer and Nadal are favourites, but they are not the players they once were. Furthermore, the early exits of both Murray and Djokovic only serves as a vivid reminder that any of the top players are beatable.
Dani Vallverdu is the difference for Dimitrov
It’s evident that the Bulgarian has benefited hugely from the off-season with coach Dani Vallverdu. More than anything, it appears that Dimitrov now believes in himself and his ability on the court.
“I’ve learned a lot of new things about myself, I think, starting to work with Dani. It was just nice that he came at a good time, the end of last year. As soon as the off-season was on, it was just very simple,” Dimitrov said.
“We had quite a few big talks: we discussed what we can do better, what we need to work on, what we need to improve, and how we want to be in 2017. I mean, simple as that. Then, for sure, the belief after. I started believing a little bit more in myself.”
The old Dimitrov may have gone into meltdown after losing the first set 6-2 against Istomin. Conversely, the seemingly new and improved #15 seed instead dug deep to turn the tables on his opponent.
Similarly, his belief was there for all to see during the match against Gasquet. The Bulgarian was hitting the ball extremely well and had a great feel for the court.
Even if Dimitrov doesn’t progress any further in Melbourne his start to 2017 shows a return to form. The Bulgarian will be a permanent fixture in the latter parts of major tournaments if he maintains his current standard of tennis.