What has happened to Grigor Dimitrov?

Published by Paul Moore

Grigor Dimitrov is having another tempestuous year on the ATP World Tour. Photo: Getty Images
It’s turning in to another torrid season for Grigor Dimitrov, but why is the Bulgarian having so many problems?

The decline is as perplexing as it is constant. When did Grigor Dimitrov hit rock bottom? It’s hard to tell at the moment. Every time he appears to have hit it, he somehow manages to find a new low.

The latest low happened just a few hours ago when the Bulgarian lost to World No.82 Dan Evans in the second round of the Citi Open, Washington. Evans, who wasn’t selected for Britain’s Davis Cup tie despite Andy Murray’s absence, dispatched Dimitrov 6-4 6-4.

But it’s not the loss to Evans that is surprising. Rather, the surprise is the fact that a loss like that isn’t surprising anymore.

Rewind the clock 18 months and life was very different for the Bulgarian.

Having beaten Andy Murray on his way to the 2014 Wimbledon semifinals, the then World No.8 was heavily touted as the future of men’s tennis. There were comparisons to Roger Federer, giving rise to the moniker ‘Baby Fed’. There was the natural flair and ability that drew crowds and TV audiences alike. And there were the boyish good looks and engaging personality – not to mention the relationship with Maria Sharapova – that saw him trumped as a Nike meal-ticket for years to come.

The future was looking very bright.

If 2014 was the breakthrough year, 2015 was supposed to be the year that Dimitrov cracked the Top 5 and started working his way towards the top of the game.

But the storm clouds were gathering.

Dimitrov was solid, if unspectacular, through the first half of the season. But as all eyes turned towards the European summer – and some serious points to defend – the wheels started to come off. A first round exit to Jack Sock at Roland Garros was followed by a third round defeat at Queen’s (a title he was defending), before he was beaten in the third round at Wimbledon.

With the ranking sliding and the results not going his way, Dimitrov lost two of the ‘anchors’ in his life in quick succession. First, he parted ways with coach – and famous disciplinarian – Roger Rasheed. Then, with rumours abounding about off-court antics, he split with long(ish)-term girlfriend Maria Sharapova.

And so the real struggles began.

Ending 2015 ranked No.28, Dimitrov has enjoyed a bumpy 2016 thus far. And while there have undoubtedly been some highs to his season (in particular his three set win over Andy Murray in Miami), they are few and far between. Rather, 2016 is becoming a year characterised by losses to players the Bulgarian should be beating. Rajeev Ram (89) ousted him from Delray Beach, Diego Schwartzmann (87) watched him implode spectacularly in Istanbul, a dangerous – albeit returning – Del Potro (228) got the better of him in Stuttgart, and Tipsarevic (553) had no business beating him at Queen’s.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rn62ST7dHX4

What’s more, his Grand Slam performances have been abysmal by his own high standards (third round Australia, first round French, third round Wimbledon).

Dimitrov spoke after his French Open defeat about having “scary” confidence issues on court. He has also admitted that his split from Sharapova caused a drop in form.

Tellingly, he rarely discusses the split from Rasheed.

But it is that split from the disciplinarian that perhaps highlights the root of the problem, and why there is cause for cautious optimism.

When asked about his string of first round defeats at Wimbledon, Dimitrov said: “It’s the work that you put in, the team and what we have worked on. There are just so many components that I just felt were not up to speed.”

Perhaps it’s that hard work that is not quite there at the moment.

The kind of hard work that Rasheed forced him to do. The kind of hard work that he saw Sharapova putting in day after day. And the kind of hard work that comes from an innate hunger that resonates within every professional athlete.

Does Grigor Dimitrov want to work that hard? Only he knows that.

As things stand, he has a good life and earns good money. He could continue doing that for a number of years and retire in comfortable style.

But if he wants more than that he’s going to have to work. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to take focus. But more than all of that, it’s going to take an unswerving drive – the kind of drive that we see week in and week out from Novak, Andy, Roger, Rafa… players that he has the talent to rub shoulders with. If he can bring those things together, Dimitrov has the ability, the flair, and most importantly at the age of 25 the time, to still be remembered as one of the greats of the game.

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