It was going to require a mammoth effort to qualify for London, but a loss in Vienna means Grigor Dimitrov will not be returning to the ATP Finals in 2018.
The Bulgarian won the season-ending event in 2017 to climb to a career-high ranking of No.3, but after a lean 2018 season he has slipped to 10th, and stands in 22nd place in the Race to London.
A 6-4 4-6 6-4 loss to qualifier Mikhail Kukushkin in the first round of Vienna on Wednesday ended his slim chances of qualifying.
Dimitrov would have needed to win the Austrian title to pick up 500 points, and then next week’s Paris Masters for another 1000. The 1500-point haul would have boosted him into the No.9 position in the Race – assuming players ahead of him lost early in the next two weeks – behind eight-placed Dominic Thiem.
With Juan Martin del Potro doubtful to compete in London and Rafael Nadal still absent with injury, the ninth-placed player could nab the final berth at the O2 Arena.
Instead, Dimitrov becomes the first ATP Finals defending champion since Nikolay Davydenko in 2010 to miss the cut for the eight-player field.
Dimitrov is mired in a form slump, having lost four of his past five matches. And by missing out on London, he won’t be able to defend the 1500 points he won for going undefeated at the tournament last year.
After the Tennismash team debated less than 12 months ago whether or not he was primed for a rise to world No.1, the Bulgarian is in danger of falling outside the top 20 in coming weeks.
It was a happier day in Vienna for seeds Kevin Anderson (2), Borna Coric (6) and Kyle Edmund (8), who progressed in vastly different circumstances on Wednesday.
Anderson advanced to the quarterfinals without hitting a ball, after local wildcard Jurgen Melzer withdrew citing gastritis. Coric beat Lucas Pouille 6-4 in the third set to join Anderson in the last eight while Edmund – last week’s Antwerp champion – moved past Diego Schwartzman in straight sets in the first round.
Meanwhile, in Basel, No.2 seed Alexander Zverev beat Robin Haase 6-4 7-5 to set up a second-round showdown with young Australian qualifier Alexei Popyrin, the Roland Garros junior champion of 2017.
Fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, a winner in Stockholm last week, also won, but No.3 seed Marin Cilic fell 7-5 7-6(2) to qualifier Marius Copil. Cilic, the next in line to qualify for the ATP Finals, was prevented from doing so officially for another week.
Fifth seed Jack Sock lost for the second straight week to Ernests Gulbis and like Dimitrov is suffering through a worrying form slump.
Sock also appeared at the ATP Finals last year but stands to plummet outside the top 100 if he doesn’t defend the points he won last year in Paris and London.
Gulbis beats Jack Sock 7-5, 6-4 in Basel R1, his second win over Sock in six days.
That loss puts #18 Sock, at last, on the edge of a *massive* rankings cliff.
Sock will have 1,400 of his 1,760 points coming off in the next two weeks. 400, from London WTF, are undefendable.
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) October 24, 2018
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