Despite these dips, tennis fans around the world had this second-round match circled on their schedules, considering the sky-high potential both players have on any given day. On Wednesday, we got to see some of the best from both men—with Dimitrov winning in the end, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3. It's the Bulgarian's second win over Cilic in six tries, and it couldn't have come at a better time.
"Every win that I have now, I appreciate it," Dimitrov said. "I don't really think of who I'm playing against. I just want to have those wins."
Both players showed off the shots that brought them to the Top 5 in this four-hour, 23-minute second-rounder, mixing aggression with finesse in a captivating baseline battle. The opening set went Cilic's way, after failing to serve it out but winning the tiebreak. Dimitrov answered back, taking the second. After trading sets again, it was the Bulgarian who drew first blood in the decider, breaking the Croatian in the opening game, and fending off deep and heavy balls to save three break points in the next game to consolidate. After earning an insurance break—which he would need—Dimitrov eventually clinched the contest on his fourth match point.
"I think there is a lot for me to take out of this match and a lot to look forward that in a way that I feel I can improve and I can sort of get better at I think for the upcoming months," Dimitrov said. "I think this is the important part for me now. It was definitely one of the greatest matches I have played for a long time."
The hope for the 28-year-old Dimitrov is that a result like this one can begin another ascent. He came into Roland Garros off successive first-round losses in Madrid, Rome, and Geneva—he entered the Switzerland event after having to qualify. Following the Madrid loss, Dimitrov split with longtime coach Dani Vallverdu, a partnership that was formed in 2016. Under Vallverdu’s tutelage, the Bulgarian had a career-best season in 2017, where he reached a career-high No. 3 ranking, won his maiden ATP Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati, and capped the year with the biggest title of his career at the ATP Finals.
And then came the proverbial letdown. Dimitrov failed to win a tournament in 2018, with the malaise carrying over into 2019. Coming into Roland Garros, his win-loss record was 9-8. In Rome, Dimitrov debuted his new partnership with coach Radek Stepanek, a former world No. 8. In Paris, Dimitrov avoided a near-collapse in his opener against Janko Tipsarevic, which he led by two sets and a break and held on to win in five.
"Clearly I have struggled the past two, three months. The shoulder hasn't been great," Dimitrov said. "So a lot of moving parts. A lot of changes overall...The shoulder is always a little bit of a concern, if you think about it. I mean, I wake up every day hoping I'm not going to have any pain."
As for Cilic, who joined the Grand Slam winner’s circle after capturing the 2014 US Open, he has struggled over the last few years due to injuries. He has won one tournament since his breakthrough 2014 season, although he did reach the 2017 Wimbledon final. Marred by a foot blister, he gave Roger Federer little resistance during that match; he also lost to the Swiss in a much more competitive 2018 Australian Open final, this time pushing him to five sets.
"When I had some chances, he was coming up with some good shots and good serves," Cilic said about Dimitrov. "And, generally, I think the level was very good. Unfortunate that I could not win it and feeling a little bit disappointed, obviously. But I think just looking at it, it was a very, very good match from both sides."
Dimitrov will next play 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka, who breezed past Cristian Garin on Wednesday. This is the third time in four majors the two will clash, with Wawrinka knocking out Dimitrov in the first round of Wimbledon and the US Open in 2018, despite returning from a knee injury. The Bulgarian will be aiming to win three successive matches for just the second time this year.