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Refreshed Grigor Dimitrov plots return back to Top 10 as US Open campaign begins at Citi Open
The former world No. 3 recovered from a Wimbledon leg injury and takes a philosophical approach to this next stage in his career after a three-set win over Adrian Mannarino.
Published Aug 04, 2022
WATCH: Grigor Dimitrov reached his second Masters 1000 semifinal in six months in Monte Carlo earlier this spring.
WASHINGTON—Grigor Dimitrov speaks softly after a hard-fought opening victory at the Citi Open, causing journalists to lean forward as he unveiled an intriguing mission statement for this new phase in his 13-year career.
“I still believe I can come back to the top,” insists the No. 5 seed after a 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 victory over Adrian Mannarino. “I would say that's my primary goal right now. I have been able to be Top 20 for quite some time. I was Top 10 for quite some time. I was No. 3 in the world.
“The ultimate goal that stays there for me is to absolutely come back to Top 10. I think it's super doable for me…I have gone through that process, and I know what it takes. I know that it's possible to do it again. It's going to come with consistency, but of course it's all up to me. I always have to reevaluate every time I play an event, a tournament. I have to see, ‘Okay, is my body capable of keep on going for another two weeks or not?’ or ‘How many tournaments I will play in order for me to be at my prime in six, seven weeks' time?’”
I was here 10 years ago for the first time. It's crazy. Then when I go to some other tournaments and now for the 13th time, I'm like, Oh, my God. All those things, they make me smile. Now it's no different. You know, I feel just like a kid coming to a tournament. That's a great feeling. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov made a similar evaluation after Wimbledon when he was forced to retire in the first round against Steve Johnson. A month away from tennis has never done a mind or body better, as Dimitrov commands the media’s attention with a lyrically philosophical explanation of how to manage an elite athlete’s schedule.
“If you are 13 years on tour, it's kind of nice to have some weeks away,” he says with a wry smile. “I appreciate them differently. I think I'm at a point not only in my career but in my life where I need to get a little bit more selective. I need to be—I want to say a bit more proper, but that's not the right thing to say. I just felt like there's other things are going to help me a lot more in my career right now and in my game than being like overly focused on things.
“I mean, I know how to play. I have won tournaments, I have won big tournaments, I have beaten all the players. So, I'd say I have to be able to withdraw some of that experience that I have and use maybe some of that to get better, to find that extra edge.”
The Bulgarian has shown glimpses of that edge in the last two years, reaching the semifinals of last fall’s BNP Paribas Open and the Rolex Monte Carlo Masters only three months ago. Injuries have been largely responsible for curtailing his pre-pandemic ascent, one that included a victorious week at the 2018 ATP Finals and arguably reached its pinnacle at the 2019 US Open—when he outlasted Roger Federer to reach the semis.
Once called “Baby Fed” in tones that ranged from reverent to derisive, the Bulgarian lightly bristles at the notion that the Swiss had somehow inspired his summer sabbatical.
“I think the beauty in not only in our sport but among all of the tennis players is that each one of us are such different individuals. I never wanted to compare myself to any of the top guys, and I always said it. Roger, Rafa, Novak, I mean, Andy, all these guys, they are on a league of their own. Of course, their influence matters a lot. I think lot of players are looking up to them and everybody is very excited to watch them, to see what they do, how they rest, what they do, but from my perspective, it's just very, very different on that.
“For me personally, I have been very fortunate to have a lot of good people around me throughout my career to kind of navigate me through some sort of mentality, and no one has ever pushed me to something. I think that's something that I'm very grateful and thankful at the same time. Of course, my parents, they never pushed me to play tennis, never pushed me to make anything in my life.
“So, it’s safe to say that I absolutely took all these decisions and I made all those like commitments on my own.”
At 31, Dimitrov is undoubtedly at a crossroads in his career: he will either make one last push towards the top of the game or find himself overshadowed by a slew of talented youngsters like next opponent Sebastian Korda.
But as the Next Gen has begun to find out, age is relative, and Dimitrov is as reticent to cede ground as any of the so-called Old Guard that continues to hoard the major trophies.
“If I have the good consistency, why not go even bigger with the Slams? I have been there, I have done that. I know how to play long matches. I have so much sort of in the bank that why not get something out of that? I think, again, you stay healthy and you give yourself a chance every time you're out there.
“I feel just like a kid coming to a tournament,” adds the athlete turned zen master as if firing a warning shot to any remaining doubters—though surely none remained in the D.C. press room. “That's a great feeling. I mean, if you don't have that, then don't play.”