Grigor Dimitrov recently missed the Sofia Open for the second year in a row, with a shoulder injury derailing his title defense last year. Had he played, he would’ve been among the favorites in a draw that was headlined by Karen Khachanov and Stefanos Tsitsipas, two of the game’s brightest young talents.
Being hailed as one to watch is a designation Dimitrov has some experience with, and in 2017, it appeared he finally arrived. However, he was unable to replicate that success in 2018, and suffered through a disappointing season to finish well outside of the Top 10.
Now ranked 31, can the Bulgarian make another ascent up the rankings? And will he stay there if—or when—he does?
So far, Dimitrov’s posted a 5-2 record on the season. In his first event of the year, he reached the quarterfinals in Brisbane, Australia, posting straight-set wins over Yoshihito Nishioka and John Millman before falling to Kei Nishikori. Dimitrov’s only victory in five prior matches against the world No. 7 came in the 2017 Brisbane final, when he claimed his first title in nearly three years.
In his second tournament of 2019, the Australian Open, Dimitrov made it through the first week, defeating veterans Janko Tipsarevic and Pablo Cuevas in the first two rounds and notching a straight-sets win over Thomas Fabbiano in the third.
That run landed him in the round of 16 against the surprise of the tournament, Frances Tiafoe. The young American, who lost to Dimitrov in a third-set tiebreak in their only other official match last year in Canada, pulled off the upset in another battle between the two to advance to his first major quarterfinal.
Like Tsitsipas and Khachanov, Tiafoe has been touted as a future Top 10 player and this result against Dimitrov was a statement-making accomplishment. Still, it was a missed opportunity for his more experienced opponent as he attempts to put last year behind him.
Dimitrov, though, has shown he’s ready to take chances in his efforts to make a rebound—none more so than what he’s doing in the coach’s box.
Aside from his regular coach Daniel Vallverdu—who guided him to that dream 2017 season in which he also won the ATP Finals and finished at No. 3 in the world—Dimitrov has added Hall of Famer Andre Agassi to his team. The American also dealt with the pressure of living up to the hype early in his career and navigated through it quite successfully, winning eight Grand Slams in the process.
It’s unclear how much Agassi, who only got a taste of coaching last year with Novak Djokovic after having been retired for more than a decade, will be on hand for Dimitrov. Will it be enough to help him return to the near-pinnacle of the game? The Top 20 is filled with players who don’t appear to be going anywhere any time soon.
The eight-time title winner will have to work harder than ever to break through yet again. He is next scheduled to appear in Indian Wells.
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