Grigor Dimitrov lost in the second round match of the ATP 500 event in Acapulco Wednesday to World No. 169 Ryan Harrison, bowing out in a shocking 6-0 final set blowout. Since last August, the Bulgarian has lost his last nine matches against Top 30 players, finding himself farther and farther from challenging in matches he’s contested against the ATP elite.
Dimitrov’s struggles have been reflected in his on-court demeanor, which has been increasingly negative. At the Australian Open and again in Alcapulco, we saw Dimitrov obliterate his racket in anger, likely a dangerous combination of short and long-term frustration.
As recently as Wimbledon, it appeared as though Dimitrov had begun charging towards the top – or at least was in the making of a substantial ascent. He defeated Stan Wawrinka en route to a title at Queen’s Club and, after beating defending champion Andy Murray, was a point from stretching eventual champion Novak Djokovic to a fifth set in the semifinals of last year’s Championships. He reached a career high ranking of No. 8 and was consistently challenging top players.
But let’s look at his results against the Top 30 after Montreal, where he beat No. 21 Kevin Anderson:
|US Open||Gael Monfils||24||L 7-5, 7-6(6), 7-5|
|Beijing||Novak Djokovic||1||L 6-2, 6-4|
|Shanghai||Julien Benneteau||30||L 7-6(4), 6-2|
|Stockholm||Tomas Berdych||7||L 5-7, 6-4, 6-4|
|Basel||Roger Federer||2||L 7-6(4), 6-2|
|Paris||Andy Murray||8||L 6-3, 6-3|
|Brisbane||Roger Federer||2||L 6-2, 6-2|
|Australian Open||Andy Murray||6||L 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-5|
The Bulgarian’s last two losses have come against Harrison and World No. 37, Gilles Muller (6-2, 7-6), in Rotterdam.
In his defense, he has been the underdog in matches against players ranked above him; he isn’t technically supposed win any of those, at least on paper. But here’s a more worrisome stat: against the Top 10, he has only been able to win a total of two sets.
Given the arc of Dimitrov’s results, one might have picked him to win a few of those matches, particularly the one against Berdych, in the finals of Stockholm.
So, what’s going on with Grigor? Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic – two players against whom he is most commonly compared – are challenging the top guys on a much more regular basis, proving to be bigger threats to the rest of the Tour, as well. Lack of talent makes little sense as an explanation; watch the average Dimitrov match and you’ll quickly find that he can execute every shot in the sport – some of which we’ve never seen.
From a purely technical standpoint, Dimitrov has been very inconsistent in his level of aggression from the back of the court, turning his offensive, dictating mindset on and off far too often. The World No. 10 is good enough to beat many opponents with consistency and defense, but that will not work against the best on the biggest stages.
What could be causing these technical lapses? There are three possible explanations for the Bulgarian’s struggles and why he has fallen behind the curve:
1. Dimitrov’s competition is stiff.
Putting the last two weeks aside, Dimitrov isn’t going out and losing to guys ranked well below him. His resumé from the last six months shows that he is being put to the test by the best in the world, losing quite a few matches as the underdog. No player can truly feel shame in losing to a member of the Big Four, regardless of our expectations when it comes to “Baby Fed.”
With the established hierarchy within the men’s game still very much in place, the task of getting to the top isn’t getting any easier.
2. Dimitrov is in a slump.
Any tennis player who has played at the professional level will tell you there is only one winner each week. More times than not, it’s not them. They’ll also tell you that rough patches will occur. It’s more than possible that Dimitrov – who is not on any type of losing streak – is simply experiencing one of those patches against the upper echelon of the game. They happen, but they can end as quickly as they begin.
3. Dimitrov is only 23.
The most likely culprit. Not every player is going to win their first Grand Slam title at 19 like Rafael Nadal, or 17 like Boris Becker. While it doesn’t yet seem appropriate to put “Dimitrov” and “major champion” in the same sentence given his recent results, it’s important to remember that he much closer to last year’s Wimbledon final than anyone thought possible 18 months ago. The clock is always ticking, but Dimitrov’s at a point where it’s time to panic.
Dimitrov may be on his way to the top, but his career will be in a long-term holding pattern if we don’t see more consistent aggression in seasons to come.
What do you make of Dimitrov’s progress and potential? Sound off in the comments?