There was a fantastic T.V series in the early 90s, about a genius who could pretend to be anyone and learn any profession. As exciting as it would be, that is not who we are talking about today. Today we are talking about a man named Grigor Dimitrov. A young Bulgarian who has for most of his career pretended to be a great Swiss, albeit with varying levels of success.
It is hard not to think of Federer when talking about Dimitrov. Ever since the talented Dimitrov burst onto the scene, his game has been a wave of nostalgia, promise and at times, utter despair. Dimitrov plays beautifully. You cannot emulate the great Swiss’s game and not incorporate an element of beauty into yours. He leans into his backhand with a wonderful balletic motion, fires off forehands created seconds earlier from dancing footwork, and serves in the classic back to the opponent style some of the game’s greats adopted.
Yet for all the wondrous and Federesque elements of his game, Dimitrov has repeatedly teased tennis fans with stretches of brilliance, only to fall back into the wastelands of mediocrity. There’s a certain edginess about his game that betrays him if not properly controlled or perhaps channeled. In essence, Dimitrov is at his best when he stays within a thin zone predicated on calm. Venture too forward and his game looks clumsy, rushed and out of sorts. Venture too far back and he looks lackadaisical. A player admiring his shots, never ready for the reply.
This week, Dimitrov was in the Goldilocks zone – that thin area of his game where the possibility of success lies. He’s been here before – Wimbledon 2014, Australian Open 2015 and 2017. In those tournaments he’d looked like a star ready to be born and each one he came up short against the might of one of the big four – Djokovic, Murray, and most recently, a gripping five set loss to Nadal. Each loss has sent Dimitrov into a tailspin, but it appears maturity is setting in this time around.
Dimitrov has held his game steady around the average mark since Australia and he re-entered the zone this week. The difference? No Federer, Murray or Nadal to contend with. That being said, the Bulgarian still had a ton of work to do. He defeated tour nemesis, Del Potro (invalidating my prediction) for the first time before getting the measure of Isner in two tiebreaks, setting up a clash with fellow rising star, Kyrgios.
The final outcome was never really in doubt. If Nadal and Federer’s flawless runs to their respective French and Wimbledon titles were coronations, this might have been Dimitrov’s ascension. He didn’t drop a set all week and in the final he was ruthlessly efficient at carving Kyrgios up with slices, dinks, dropshots and screaming running forehand winners. After one such winner whizzed by Kyrgios, he could only applaud. How could he not? He had the best seat in the house.
There is an old saying that goes something like this. “Act the part.” It projects the philosophy of behaving like what it is you want to become and in so doing, you become it. I don’t believe Dimitrov was playing pretend Federer. I do believe he was playing pretend champion. Today he became just that. A prestigious masters 1000 title champion.
Care to play pretend Grand Slam Champion anyone?