Ever since Grigor Dimitrov burst onto the scene seven years ago, he’s been ceaselessly compared to one Roger Federer.
Some have been highly critical of the parallels made between the two, but before anything is said, it’s essential to recognize that no two tennis players on the planet are exactly alike. While there are many players who have similarities in stroke production or style of play, everyone in the game is a unique entity.
With that in mind, let’s begin by talking about how Dimitrov and Federer are alike.
In terms of technique, the two do mirror one another from the back of the court. When it comes to hitting stances, racket head preparation, size/shape of the backswing, average contact point, and overall swing path, Federer and Dimitrov hit the ball in quite similar fashion off both sides. Both use a pretty conservative eastern backhand grip; off the forehand, Dimitrov uses a classic eastern forehand grip where Federer slightly differs, placing the knuckle of his index finger between the third (eastern) and fourth (semi-western) bevels.
As the video below demonstrates, their serves are very comparable as well, though Federer exhibits a bit more fluidity and relaxation through the motion.
Dimitrov and Federer are also very much alike in their ability to come up with spectacular shots. They are both veritable who have an uncanny capacity to do whatever they want with the racket, manipulating and moving it wherever and however they please.
Whether it means going through the legs, behind the back, flicking the ball for winners, etc., Dimitrov and Federer possess an unrivaled command of the court.
Now that we’ve gone through some few similarities, the obvious question remains: why does Federer have 17 major titles to Dimitrov’s zero?
The easiest explanation is that while the two produce shots that are seemingly equal in appearance, the effects are drastically different. It bears repeating that players who hit similarly does not identical champions make. An endless number of factors, ranging from shot selection, variety, footwork, fitness, consistent execution, precision, and accuracy, have hitherto been left out of the conversation.
Without further ado, highlights of some of the biggest differences between Federer and Dimitrov.
1. Level of Aggression
Dimitrov is among the most inconsistent aggressors in the sport. One day he’s pounding the ball with dependable, on-the-rise ball striking, on other days he’s content to immerse himself in neutral ball rallies, attempting to let his opponents unravel by themselves.
Federer rarely, if ever, employs this type of strategy. Offense is his modus operandi: offense and more offense. The Swiss is more willing to put his opponents in defensive positions in rallies and even more firm in his commitment to taking the ball early.
Analyzing Dimitrov through the last two Australian Opens, it’s clear that the offensive skill is there, but he’s not using it often enough. The match Dimitrov played against Nadal in the 2014 quarterfinal was outstanding; he tried to take it to Nadal.
Flash forward to his third round against Marcos Baghdatis a year later and it’s like night and day in terms of aggression.
Dimitrov needed nearly three and a half hours to dispose of a generally far less aggressive opponent, one who ended up hitting nine more winners. In five sets against Baghdatis, Dimitrov hit just one backhand winner. In four Australian Open matches this year, Dimitrov hit eight over 16 sets.
Dimitrov’s forehand is still not nearly as consistently aggressive as it needs to be, but it’s light-years ahead of his backhand.
Dimitrov can serve harder than Federer, but Federer’s is infinitely more effective. Federer hits more spots, has more variation and typically hits more aces. The only year during which Dimitrov surpassed Federer in aces was 2013, which is unequivocally Federer’s worst season since winning his first Grand Slam title back in 2003.
Federer’s aforementioned motion is also much more repeatable, and much less physically taxing. He can rely on his serve to bail him out in the biggest moments against the best players. Dimitrov cannot say the same.
This is another area in which Federer has a massive advantage. While Dimitrov may have more foot speed when running down a ball, Federer makes better adjustment steps, allowing him to get on top of balls more quickly, and is, in general, a lighter mover.
This allows him to take on short balls earlier, run around shots for more effectiveness and position himself better for more shots on average. Dimitrov is certainly no pushover in this department, but even into his 30s, Federer continues to supersede.
This is hardly a hot take, but Roger Federer is pretty darn good at putting the ball wherever he wants off the ground, particularly off the forehand side. There are no shortage of shots where he wouldn’t do any better by running around and placing the ball on the other side of the court.
He’s able to put his opponents in a defensive position at far higher rate than Dimitrov. Again, this is not marginalizing Dimitrov’s skill as much as it demonstrates the simple fact that Federer does things with the ball like no other.
5. Slice Backhand
Dimitrov defends better using the slice backhand than Federer, but Federer has the edge when it comes to using the slice as both a mix-up shot and as an offensive weapon. In addition to being able to pull and prod his opponents with the slice backhand, it’s a shot that Federer can drive lower and harder through the court than Dimitrov.
One area where Dimitrov does have the edge over Federer is in defense. The Bulgarian can chase more balls down and has a level of flexibility only eclipsed by Novak Djokovic and Gael Monfils.
This increased flexibility gives him more range when pushed laterally off the ground.
Overall, Federer and Dimitrov are not, in fact, the same player. Anyone could tell you that. But when we start looking at some of the things that separate these two, it should be evident that while Dimitrov will likely never be Roger Federer, he has the potential to be a much, much better Grigor Dimitrov.
Dimitrov still has the potential to be World No. 1; for now, the biggest thing holding him back is his level of aggression. The other things listed are important but at the end of the day, Grand Slams tournaments are won, not taken.
What do you think are the biggest differences between Federer and Dimitrov? Sound off in the comments!