What looked to be a routine opening-round victory for Grigor Dimitrov at Roland Garros soon turned into a Sunday nightmare. From a two-sets-and-a-break lead to being six points away from defeat, Dimitrov held on to prevail 6-3, 6-0, 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-4 over Janko Tipsarevic.
"This is what I have waited for, to win matches like that," Dimitrov said. "In the past months, all those matches have gone the other way around for me. And I just felt that this time, at the important moment I really stepped up."
The Bulgarian was in total command, displaying signs of the shot-making and confidence that vaulted him inside the Top 3 at the end of 2017. From 2-3 in the first set, Dimitrov claimed the next 11 games and was dominant in all facets. But like he’s experienced much throughout the past 18 months, his inability to close was exposed.
To his credit, Tipsarevic raised his level, dialing up first serves under pressure to keep Dimitrov off balance and executing large forehand cuts. Dimitrov’s standards haven't dropped much—he produced 56 winners to just 25 unforced errors in the first four sets. His backhand let him down in several key moments, including the final point of the fourth-set tiebreaker when he shanked a pass attempt against the surprise serve-and-volley tactic of Tipsarevic.
The Serbian was soon visited by the trainer and showed signs of fatigue in the decisive set. He began to go for broke, aiming to end points as quickly as possible with free-swinging groundstrokes. It worked until the ninth game, when Dimitrov was able to extend the rallies and finally regain control. The world No. 47 was forced to save a break point before Tipsarevic’s final big swing landed wide.
"I need to give everything I have when I'm out there on the court even if it's not going well. It's simple as that," said Dimitrov. "I just can't sit around and wait for everything to be 100 percent in order for me to compete. Yes, it's hard. Yes, there's a lot of tough losses that I had. But, for me, it's more the course. You keep going again and again even if things are not going your way."
Since winning the 2017 ATP Finals, the 47th ranked Dimitrov is 34-26 (10-7 in 2019) and is yet to return to the winner’s circle after lifting his biggest career trophy in London. In the second round, the 28-year-old will meet No. 11-seeded Marin Cilic, a 6-3, 7-5, 6-1 winner over Thomas Fabbiano.