Can't argue with Dimitrov's results
Bulgarian talent quickly becoming one of the elite players on the ATP Tour
Hotshot Dimitrov the Bulgarian is finally becoming known in his own right.
There's a lot of talk about Grigor Dimitrov these days. And it's about Grigor Dimitrov the tennis player -- not "Baby Fed" or Maria Sharapova's boyfriend, the two identities by which until recently he has been better known.
It's not even about Hotshot Dimitrov, which might be a good new nickname given his regular appearance in highlight clips hitting a spectacular winner from some contorted position.
Instead, it's about his results. The 23-year-old from Bulgaria has been one of the hottest players on tour this season, reaching the semifinals of Wimbledon and breaking into the top 10. Wildly talented and entertaining to watch, he was long touted as the next big thing thanks to his athleticism and broad arsenal of shots bearing a striking resemblance to Federer's game.
But Dimitrov's climb up the ranks had been slow following his two Grand Slam junior victories in 2008, punctuated with a few outbursts of temper and regular coaching changes. That began to change in 2013, with more fitness, discipline and consistency evident in his game. Until October, he had not won a singles title. Now he has four, each on a different surface: indoors at Stockholm in October; on hard courts at Acapulco in February; on clay at Bucharest a few weeks before the French Open; and on grass at Queen's a month ago.
"I think I'm in a good spot at the moment," Dimitrov said at Wimbledon. "I'm practicing well. I'm doing good work on and off the court. I'm focusing really on every match that I'm playing."
His surge began as he started working with coach Roger Rasheed, who has been significantly credited with Dimitrov's turnaround. Rasheed, who previously coached Lleyton Hewitt, Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, got straight to the point when approached by the up-and-comer.
"What number do you want to be?" Rasheed said. "Is it seven, is it five, is it one?
"He didn't think about it too long."
Once it was clear that Dimitrov wanted to aim for the top, Rasheed's next question was whether he was willing get there. "If that's what you want, then you've got to commit to that," said Rasheed. "And he's a kid who wants it. He's showed me that."
Rasheed's first step was to profile Dimitrov, identifying his present level and where it should be. Having started as a trainer before becoming a coach, the Australian puts a heavy emphasis on physical fitness, an area where Dimitrov was considered to be lagging.
No longer, it appears. Neither player nor coach will give details about the training regime, with Rasheed telling a small group of reporters at Wimbledon only that "there's a portion of our training which is probably not for everybody."
But the results are obvious. Dimitrov took out Andy Murray in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, then went five sets with Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. This coming after Dimitrov won the title at Queen's.
The performance was especially important following a first-round ouster at the French Open. Rasheed did not like Dimitrov's approach to that match. "And he's learning; I'm not going to pound him for that," said the coach. "But I just thought he needed to respond."
After some lackluster training leading into Queen's and more challenging words from Rasheed, Dimitrov did. This also reflects his increased consistency, which is helped by an emphasis on playing well in each tournament and each match, as well as a more disciplined approach to points.
"We've changed a few little things in his game," Rasheed said. "When you've got a whole lot of tools, it's about how you actually use them, what you do with them. He was like a junior playing tennis, without a lot of understanding of how to use his stuff.''
As much as Rasheed discourages it, the Bulgarian still produces the wild winners that show up in those highlights. But they are now exceptions rather than regular attempts.
"I think I have better shot selection," said Dimitrov. "I'm more consistent throughout all the weeks, winning more matches."
Rasheed's emphasis is on being professional, but his personal influence and positive energy are also important for a player who does not have a big community on tour. "That's really important," said Rasheed. "He's been a single kid and been on the road since he was 14 as well -- in and out of different academies, different countries."
That might also be why Dimitrov, first coached by his father, has taken a bit longer to adjust to the demands of the tour.
"He's a kid who's made his way on his own," said Rasheed. "He's out of Bulgaria, and the only player. He hasn't had the push and shove from all the other juniors growing up. He's got a great family, and they've given him a great work ethic."
Although Dimitrov has taken awhile to produce an impact on tour, Rasheed sees him catching up now. The coach says Dimitrov is only about "25 percent" through his development.
"Grigor hasn't had the push yet from the other players in major countries, because they're pushing each other," he said. "He never had that as a junior, he's never had that until he's got to the tour. So that's why there's going to be a bigger acceleration in development in his pathway."
Taking Djokovic to five sets is one thing. Defeating Djokovic in five sets is another, and that's where Dimitrov is now looking.
"As soon as it comes to clutch matches like those ones against Andy, Novak, whoever else I have to play, this is where I want to get into that next gear and bring all my goods," Dimitrov said.
"We are all for attacking the top, so I don't think I'm going to take a step back or any of that."