Nearly 50 years ago, an NFL Films feature proclaimed, “the autumn wind is a pirate.” The reference was to the Oakland Raiders, the maverick team of swashbuckling renegades armed with the motto, “pride and poise.”

Today, the autumn wind came to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. The pirate was Grigor Dimitrov. Up against 16th-seeded Reilly Opelka in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open, the 23rd-seeded Dimitrov stepped onboard Opelka’s ship early, captured Opelka’s captain of a serve, and thoroughly personified pride and poise to earn a 6-3, 6-4 victory.

Word has it that Dimitrov is an exceptional competitor in practice, his array of shots coming together quite nicely. Given that reputation, it was hard to see how this versatile player would feel comfortable amid the swirling, unpredictable conditions – particularly against a big server and fine all-court mover like Opelka. But as things turned out, Opelka was less able to find his game, the mix of wind and the slow court consistently aiding Dimitrov’s cause.

The keys to Dimitrov’s victory were Impeccable footwork, an adroit mix of drives, slices, approaches, efficient returning and pinpoint serving. Besides getting in an astounding 77 percent of his first serves, not once did Dimitrov face a break point.


When in doubt, Dimitrov knifed a low slice, forcing the seven-footer to bend down and hit up on the ball.

When in doubt, Dimitrov knifed a low slice, forcing the seven-footer to bend down and hit up on the ball. 

With Opelka serving in the first set at 2-3, love-30, Dimitrov snapped off a crosscourt forehand passing shot winner. Two points later, an untouchable crosscourt backhand pass earned him the break. Serving for the first set at 5-3, at 15-all, Dimitrov won a 24-ball rally and closed out the set at 30.

Opelka hung tough to start the second, fighting off a break point in the opening game with a fine kick serve and crisp forehand volley winner. Soundly as Dimitrov kept managing his service games, versus Opelka there is always the threat of a couple of big shots breaking things open and the set suddenly running away. But on this occasion, Dimitrov seized the moment. With Opelka serving at 4-all, 30-all, Opelka lunged for a sharp Dimitrov passing shot. Rather than let Opelka’s volley bounce, Dimitrov moved forward, hit a volley of his own and soon won the point. At 30-40, Opelka netted a forehand. Once again, Dimitrov held easily.

It was a pleasing win for Dimitrov, who’d lost their only previous encounter, this past August in Toronto. That match had been played in very different conditions – a slick hardcourt that greatly favored Opelka’s brand of offense. At Indian Wells, Dimitrov was the one in control. As words from the “Autumn Wind” go, “And the trees all shake and quiver and quake, As he robs them of their gold.”