INDIAN WELLS, CALIF.—For eight games, it looked as if Baby Federer—a.k.a., former world junior No. 1 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria—had grown up at last. Playing his second career match against Novak Djokovic, Dimitrov ran out to a 4-1 lead and served for the first set at 5-3. Looking stronger and more filled out than he has in the past, Dimitrov served well, held his own in baseline rallies, and pressured Djokovic with a few well-timed forays to the net. This was the type of all-court, every-shot tennis that fans had been waiting to see from this prodigy.
Then Dimitrov stepped to the line to serve for the first set. He did it while looking into the sun, from the same side of the court where Mardy Fish and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had been broken multiple times in their match earlier in the day. But neither of them had it happen in such ignominious fashion as Dimitrov, who double-faulted four times to hand the break, and eventually the set, back to Djokovic.
Novak began by sailing balls over the baseline, and while he got better as the match went on, he never had to get that much better. As he said afterward, once Dimitrov double-faulted the first set away, his unforced errors began to mount, especially on his troublesome backhand side. Usually a weak spot for Dimitrov, the shot held up well through the first set. Then it didn’t.
We got a taste of what Dimitrov can, and still can’t, do today. As for Djokovic, he wasn’t sharp in his first match, in which he dropped a set to 36th-ranked Fabio Fognini, and he wasn’t much sharper today, when he almost dropped a set to the 31st-ranked Dimitrov before winning 7-6 (4), 6-1. The ball has been flying on the Djoker. He’s winning, and he’s now 15-0 in 2013, but he’ll have to get better. Next up is the last man to beat him, in Bercy in the fall, Sam Querrey.