- Kamakshi Tandon
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Grigor Dimitrov has plenty of claims to fame. Early in his career, the 22-year-old Lithuanian was dubbed "Baby Fed," and in the past few months he's been better known as Maria Sharapova's boyfriend. He also hit what was possibly last season's shot of the year, a no-look, behind-the-back drop-shot winner in Federer's hometown of Basel last October.
Now the pressure is on to stay ahead in the shot-making stakes (not to mention live up to those other two roles).
Here, at least, Dimitrov has been holding his own, even though there's been stiff competition the first couple months of the season.
When it comes to showing off, in tennis or otherwise, you can't go wrong with the classics. In tennis, that means the between-the-legs shot -- a must-have if you're seeking oohs and aahs. The tweener's recent return to vogue can be traced back to none other than that tennis classic himself -- Federer, who hit celebrated between-the-legs winners at the U.S. Open back-to-back in 2010 and 2011.
But the hot dog shot has become so popular these days, the standard brilliance isn't enough anymore. You need to do something really special to make people sit up and take notice. Take this lob volley from Marcelo Melo in Davis Cup a couple of weeks ago:
Or this angled winner from Lukas Rosol, in another Davis Cup match:
But Dimitrov wasn't to be outdone. Like Melo, he applied a little twist to the usual backwards-facing motion -- literally -- and hit his between-the-legs shot in Rotterdam while facing forward:
He may not have won the point, but Dimitrov is quickly turning the flicked behind the body backhand into a signature move -- that one is similar to his 2012 maneuver. The forward-facing tweener, however, has been around for a while, and Andy Murray and Gael Monfils have even done it leaping in the air to connect with the ball. Since Monfils can make some Cirque du Soleil moves look like playground gymnastics, it wasn't surprising to see him steal the shotmaking show in Rotterdam with this leaping Sampras-style overhead followed by a sliding lunge lob winner:
If this was ice skating, the judges would award a bonus for doing it in combination.
At least Dimitrov showed he can slide, too, and hit an angled winner:
The kind of acrobatics on tour these days are enough to induce gasps all by themselves. Guys are taking defense to new extremes, using all sorts of positions -- and posteriors as well. Here's Dimtrov making a shot after falling down:
But he gets beat out by Novak Djokovic, who not only fell and made a shot at the Australian Open, but managed to win the point:
It's one thing to produce brilliance at any given moment, but quite another to do it when the match might be on the line. That's what makes this backhand winner by Stanislas Wawrinka, at set point to take it to a fifth set, so impressive:
But once again, there's Djokovic, doing it on match point in that same contest:
And in case you thought Federer was losing his touch, here he is with another old-school jaw-dropper -- the drop-shot return winner:
Whether you're watching or playing, the rule seems to be to stick with what you do best. In the case of a famous Australian cricketer, Shane Warne, that means …
As for Dimitrov, it seems like he keeps his best stuff for the practice courts:
Warning: do not try this in sanctioned competition.