Stockholm: Dimitrov d. Ferrer

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Grigor Dimitrov oozes talent as easily as some players shed sweat, but resilience hasn’t always been an asset. Dimitrov arrived in Stockholm with a sparse 4-18 record when losing the first set this season and wasn’t gaining much ground in the comeback grind as he stared down a one-set deficit against world No. 3 David Ferrer today.

Amping up his serve and unleashing his all-court skills, Dimitrov dug in and played inspired tennis to rally for a 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory and capture his first career ATP title. It was Dimitrov’s second straight successful fightback, coming a day after he rallied for a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 triumph over Benoit Paire in the semifinals.

Both men were skittish on serve at the start, collaborating on three straight service breaks. Ferrer broke at love for a 3-2 lead and fought off a pair of break points in the ensuing game to consolidate for 4-2.  Corner-to-corner rallies escalated as they streaked around the court, but Ferrer’s footwork was more precise. The top seed consistently took the short preparation steps to set up for shots on balance, while Dimitrov sometimes stretched in one lunging stride or stumbled after sliding shots.  Playing shrewder situational tennis, Ferrer broke for a third time to seize a 5-2 lead. When the seventh seed sliced a backhand return into net, Ferrer closed the 49-minute first set on a four-game run.

The 22-year-old Dimitrov is an enchanting talent because he can create flashes of shot-making magic on the move from virtually anywhere on court. He showed flair and finesse opening the second set soaring high for a smash, landing to guide a gorgeous backhand drop volley winner to hold for 1-0. Facing a break point in the fourth game, Ferrer, who had targeted Dimitrov’s one-handed backhand to good effect on prior break points, flipped the script with a second serve ace down the middle that surprised the Bulgarian. At that point, Dimitrov had converted just one of eight break-point chances. The action Dimitrov imparts on the ball and the contrast between his explosive topspin forehand and the biting slice of his one-handed backhand, can be jarring as he seldom played the same spin on successive shots. A lurching slice backhand drew a backhand error from Ferrer as Dimitrov broke for 5-3. Knifing an acute-angled backhand that sent Ferrer scurrying near the umpire’s chair in pursuit, Dimitrov took the 33-minute second set on a not-up ruling though replay showed Ferrer appeared to get the ball on one bounce.

Ferrer, who was 42-3 when winning the opening set this season, earned the first break point in the fourth game of the decider only to see Dimitrov erase it with an inside-out forehand. Dimitrov saved two more break points from 15-40 down to hold for 3-all. Tightening up under tension in the seventh game, Ferrer netted his favored forehand then double-faulted off the tape to drop serve after a six-and-a-half minute game to trail 3-4.

Serving for his first title, Dimitrov snapped off a wide kicker, followed a forehand forward and slammed a confident overhead for championship point. When Ferrer’s forehand expired in the net, Dimitrov collapsed to the court in celebration as the first Bulgarian to win an ATP singles title in the Open Era. The man who made a career of scoring style points, won the critical points today.

It was endearing to see the genuine joy and exuberance the first-time champion exuded in the afterglow. Dimitrov not only embraced Ferrer, his coach, Roger Rasheed, agent and supporters, he took time to high-five fans in the front row then slapped palms with a line of ball kids as he stepped up to pick up his trophy and first champion’s check.

“I’m still overwhelmed; it’s a dream come true,” Dimitrov told the crowd. “Thank you, David, for the great battle.”

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