Scrambling behind the baseline midway through the third set, Grigor Dimitrov tumbled to the court yet still somehow scraped a forehand reply while laid out and never took his eyes off the ball as Benoit Paire pushed an open-court forehand beyond the baseline.
Even when he was down, Dimitrov was still looking up.
The seventh-seeded Dimitrov showed his resolve in rallying for a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory to reach his second final of the season in Stockholm today in an entertaining match between two shotmakers capable of playing all-court tennis and bending the ball into obscure areas of the court.
The Frenchman won their lone prior meeting in four sets at the 2012 U.S. Open and watching their early exchanges you can understand why Paire poses problems for Dimitrov. The lean and lanky 6’5” Paire can use his expansive reach and sliding skills on hard court to create angles, he's a touch artist with a mischievous penchant for playing the drop shot and he can land his two-handed backhand — his strongest and most stable shot — virtually anywhere on the court.
Dimitrov had not dropped serve in reaching his fourth semifinal of the season, but Paire pounded a forehand return winner down the line to break in the opening game. The 25th-ranked Frenchman whipped the wide serve with accuracy to set up his first strike and force Dimitrov to defend. Paire won all 13 points when landing his first serve in the opener, throwing down three love holds and slicing an ace wide to snatch the first set in 32 minutes.
The 22-year-old Bulgarian is the youngest man in the Top 40 and while he doesn’t possess a weapon as imposing as the serves of 11th-ranked Milos Raonic or 15th-ranked Jerzy Janowicz, who were both quarterfinal causalities, he’s the best pure athlete and has the most elastic all-court skills of the young guns.
Regrouping, Dimitrov denied a break point with a fine full stretch backhand on the run to open the second set. The world No. 28 began to find the range on his running forehand and make more inroads in Paire’s service games in the second set. Paire scattered a backhand sitter long then misfired on a wild, wayward forehand to drop serve and fall into a 3-1 second-set hole. Dimitrov cleaned up his game and drove his forehand down the line with more authority, hitting 13 winners against five unforced errors to take the second set in 33 minutes when Paire netted a volley with casual indifference.
Paire took an injury time-out to have his left knee re-taped — and the hole near the instep of his Nike shoe covered as well — but couldn’t stop leaking errors in critical moments. If you’ve played competitive tennis at any level, you have to admire the audacity of Paire, who is so confident in his drop-shot skills he actually drop-shotted Dimitrov while he was at net then won the point with an angled backhand. But his devotion to the dropper cost him in the sixth game of the decider when his soft drop shot danced off the tape, dropped over the net, but Dimitrov streaked forward and slid into an angled backhand pass to earn double break point. When Paire blasted a backhand into the top of the tape to surrender serve he dropped his Babolat racquet in disgust, down 2-4. Dimitrov delivered his fifth ace to consolidate for 5-2 and closed the one hour, 44-minute win when Paire netted a half-volley.
"Finally," a smiling Dimitrov said after reaching his first final since Brisbane in January. "I'm really, really happy to be back in a final. Ben played a really good match so I'm happy to find a way to get through in three."
Dimitrov takes on top-seeded David Ferrer in Sunday's final.