In the middle of August, Grigor Dimitrov was on the “right” track to have his worst season in eight years. But about two weeks later, everything changed.
Grigor Dimitrov: 2019 Season in Review
Ranking at the beginning of the season: 19
Ranking at the end of the season: 20
Ranking change: -1
Peak rank: 19
Low rank: 78
Singles win/loss record: 24/21 (22/21 in main draw ATP Tour matches)
The former world no.3 and the 2017 ATP Finals champion was one of the biggest disappointments of the 2018 season. The Bulgarian failed to build on that biggest trophy of his career and never really came back to playing at that level.
The first half of 2019 was unspectacular for Dimitrov. A very solid 4th round run at the Australian Open stands in contrast with a rather poor loss to Jordan Thompson in Miami. The clay-court season isn’t historically the most prolific hunting ground for Dimitrov, but the 28-year-old still made Roland Garros third round, beating Janko Tipsarevic and the 11th seed Marin Cilic.
Problems started during the summer as Dimitrov went on a four-match losing streak. And although that wouldn’t be so bad by itself, the quality of players faced was drastically decreasing. Stan Wawrinka at Roland Garros is not a loss anyone’s going to blame him for and neither is going down to Felix Auger-Aliassime at Queens.
But the Bulgarian was still an overwhelming favorite to beat Corentin Moutet in the first round of Wimbledon. The French qualifier has never done much on grass and with Dimitrov serving for the match at 6-2 6-3 6-5, no one expected what was about to happen. In a terrible meltdown, the 28-year-old started spraying errors all over a place and went away mentally, blowing a 2-0 lead for the first time in his career.
And Dimitrov’s struggles weren’t over. Kevin King is a very solid ATP Challenger Tour player but he had never beaten a top 80 player before. At the time of their match in Atlanta, King was ranked no. 405 in the ATP Rankings. It was just a horrible performance from Dimitrov who won just 8 out of 34 points on his 2nd serve.
Another aspect of his continuous struggles in the last two years in drawing Stan Wawrinka. From Wimbledon 2018 to Cincinnati 2019, the two played each other five times, with the Swiss emerging victorious each time. Wawrinka outmatches Dimitrov with his easy power and the Bulgarian still hasn’t found a receipt for that. And in a quite insane stroke of misfortune, the Swiss was his first-round opponent at the Rogers Cup and at Cincinnati.
A complete turnaround
But we’re coming to the one event that changed it all. Dimitrov benefitted from his US Open draw opening up as 12th seed Borna Coric withdrew before their second-round match. The Bulgarian had a great performance against Alex De Minaur to set up a quarterfinal meeting versus Roger Federer, a player he’s been compared to throughout his career but whom he had never beaten… yet.
Federer was struggling with some serious back pain but there’s no point in undermining Dimitrov’s excellent performance. As we know, it’s never over till this it’s really over against the big 3 and the Bulgarian was rock solid from the ground that day, taking the Swiss to five sets and running away with it 6-2 in the decider.
Although the Bulgarian fell to Daniil Medvedev in his second Grand Slam semifinal, it was still a season-changing run. Dimitrov compiled yet another good streak at the very end of the 2019 season – a semifinal at the Rolex Paris Masters. Beating David Goffin and ATP Finals runner-up Dominic Thiem, he finally fell at the hands of Novak Djokovic in a very closely contested battle.
Looking forward to 2020
One of the reasons why Grigor Dimitrov will be able to start his campaign with a clear head is his very secure ranking. 1080 of his 1747 (62%) ranking points come from these two great runs that happened in the last few months of the season. Therefore, he will have plenty of time to make up for that poor first half of 2019.
Beating Federer might do wonders to Dimitrov’s psyche too. Called “Baby Fed” his whole life, he got very angry at his Roland Garros 3rd round when someone shouted “Come on Baby Federer,” Dimitrov’s reply, “Do I look like a baby to you?” shows how much he is fed up with being called that. Getting that head-to-head win should be a great confidence builder.
His big matches performance is a very positive sign too. Although he ends the year with a 2-4 record vs the top 10, not one of these performances was sub-par. Dimitrov simply has that kind of mentality that allows him to perform his best in a blockbuster clash.
All in all, the Bulgarian is still a force to be reckoned with. He’s got insane natural flexibility, probably matched only by Novak Djokovic, and excellent control of the ball. When striking with confidence, Grigor Dimitrov plays an all-court style that can be very hard to stop. Hopefully, he can enter the 2020 season with a clear head and build upon that fantastic latter half of 2019.