Racquet Reaction

Wimbledon: Zemlja d. Dimitrov

Friday, June 28, 2013 /by

WIMBLEDON, England—Trouble, or at least attention, follows Grigor Dimitrov. Baby Fed or Black Heart, successor to Roger Federer or boyfriend to Maria Sharapova, the man known in the papers here as the “Bulgarian hunk” has a surprising knack for getting us to watch him.

All eyes were on Dimitrov on Friday afternoon at Wimbledon. His match with Grega Zemlja had been stopped the previous day because of rain, with Dimitrov serving at 8-9 in the fifth set. This was the tennis equivalent of spending the night being suspended from a cliffside. He likely got some advice from Sharapova over that time, as he did on occasion during the match. Late in the fifth set, Sharapova, who had brought her silver pants to front row behind the court, told Dimitrov to “Keep playing.” Keep playing? Those who can do, don’t teach, right? Though maybe she knows her man better than we think: Dimitrov has world-beating talent, but has struggled with patience and grittiness, with his keeping his up, in the past.

Dimitrov didn’t waste any time rewarding our attention today when he walked out and immediately went down 0-30 on his serve, putting him two points from oblivion. After evening the score at 30-30, he stepped back for a deep ball, slipped, and lost the point. When he got up, he flipped the ball in his pocket to the sidelines and stalked to his chair, telling the chair umpire that the court was unplayably slippery.

After a consultation with the referee and a few minutes of drizzle, play continued. Dimitrov would eventually save three match points in that game, the third with a 131-M.P.H. service winner. But two games later he couldn’t save a fourth—the sixth overall—as Zemlja beat him with a running, curling forehand pass to win their second-round match, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-3, 11-9 in four hours and four minutes.

If there’s a stat that stands out, it’s Dimitrov’s break-point conversion rate: He was a dismal 2 of 18; but Zemlja was just 2 of 10, and each of them came up with big serves and big shots when they needed them in this well-played, entertaining match. Dimitrov finished with 22 aces and 60 winners; Zemlja with 19 and 54. The two sent each other skidding, sliding, and slipping around the court, until it began to look like an ice rink. 

Zemlja, as is always the case with the victor, was better when it mattered. He won the match despite winning eight fewer points than Dimitrov—185 to 193. The 26-year-old Slovenian won a crucial second-set tiebreaker to keep things close, and he was the better player down the stretch in the fifth set. He’ll play Juan Martin del Potro in the third round.

As for Dimitrov, he showed a tendency to overhit at the end of sets. And his backhand, while improved, remains something of a liability. In the final game, with chances to come in behind that shot, Dimitrov backtracked instead because he wasn’t able to do enough with the approach from that side. For two days, he had done his best to take Sharapova’s advice and keep playing. Now his Wimbledon is over.


IBM Stat of the Match: Not much separated these two, particularly in the 96-minute fifth set, and Dimitrov actually won eight more points than Zemlja (193 to 185). But the Slovenian won the bigger ones.

IBM is a proud sponsor and official technology partner for Wimbledon. For more information on this match, including the Keys to the Match, visit IBM's SlamTracker.

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