In 2014, Grigor Dimitrov reached his first ATP Masters 1000 semifinal at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. Yet the renowned Rome event soon became a place to forget for the Bulgarian.
Coming into this week, Dimitrov had lost five consecutive matches at the Foro Italico—four ending in three sets. With the tournament shifting back four months to squeeze in as part of a condensed European clay-court swing, the former world No. 3 didn’t have much time to dwell on a pair of second-round exits at the Flushing Meadows doubleheader, nor get caught up in the abrupt change in surfaces.
Dimitrov, who tested positive for COVID-19 in early July and later openly spoke about the draining side effects of the virus, has looked strong thus far at the Italian Open. Broken just once in 17 service games, he began his campaign Monday by breaking away for a 7-5, 6-1 victory against Gianluca Mager, who took down Dominic Thiem in Rio de Janiero before the tours shut down. On Wednesday, Dimitrov dismantled Yoshihito Nishioka, 6-1, 6-0, in 55 minutes, winning 24 of his 25 first-serve points.
TENNIS.com caught up with the 2017 ATP Finals champion after his second-round win, where he discussed the difficulty of this year’s New York experience, his love for Italian cuisine and his upcoming clash with rising Italian Jannik Sinner.
Having been on the unfortunate end of so many three-setters in Rome, how are you feeling after two wins? What are the conditions like now, compared to mid-May, when you’ve usually played here?
I feel good. This year, with the different circumstances, I’m trying to use every opportunity I have out there. I think the time I’ve spent off the court is helping now. It’s an interesting atmosphere here, for sure. I almost feel like we did not have enough time to prepare for the clay season.
I’m actually shocked by how warm it is. I live six hours away and the weather has been so amazing, very different. I played the first match, sort of mid-day and it was so hot, the ball was flying so much. Today, the sun was kind of down, and it was shady. The whole play changed a little bit.
For you, how much about playing in New York was gaining a sense of where your body is at after what you went through earlier this summer?
New York was a very tough trip for me, if I may say this. I didn’t live up to my own expectations, let alone to how my body felt. I was actually considering not going, but at the last second, I really decided I had to test my body to see where I was at physically and mentally.
You have to be smart enough and be good to yourself. Sometimes, just say enough is enough and kind of protect your body and mind a little bit more than usual. We tend to forget that a lot, because we want to do well, we want to redeem ourselves for a tournament or a loss that we had the previous day. That’s the best thing in tennis, you always have a next week. But in that particular case, I was sick for some time and had to review a few other things outside of the sport. So it became a little much. At the same time, I don’t regret the decisions I’ve made.
I must imagine that when you’re playing Rome traditionally, the food scene is one of the best parts of this tour stop. How are you coping with not having that as readily available this year? And do you let yourself go a bit more when this cuisine is at your fingertips?
I really love Italian food. I’m honestly very pissed I cannot go to some restaurants here. Frustrated, use any word you want. But you try to make the most out of it, whether it’s room service, whether you have that burrata with tomatoes. I indulge myself quite a bit. I’m still pretty strict before I play, but every time I have a little opportunity to treat myself, absolutely I go for that. It’s too good not too. It doesn’t bother my body, or rattle my stomach.
As someone who often shares parts of your workout routine on Instagram stories, I'm going to put you on the spot. Media members are now spending a lot more time sitting for extended periods in chairs to follow the sport...
Can I suggest to you first? Don’t sit on a chair. Get a relax ball.
OK, that’s a good one to know. What stretches would you suggest to help with the lower back and neck areas?
For us athletes, every week we wake up in a different bed with different pillows. So for me, the most important thing is as soon as you get off the bed, is to really try to stretch out. Use rollers to roll your back a little bit on it. You can also connect two baseballs together, put between the spine on the trigger points, on the lower back where you really need it. You have to basically help yourself now when you’re at home. Use a wall for your trigger points—I use it a lot for my shoulder.
For the neck, it’s always a little more specific. Sometimes, I lay at the edge of the bed and let my head hang for four or five minutes to get a little bit more blood to relax the muscles. Then slowly get up and try different movements. There’s quite a few easy tricks. I like to call them “cut corners.”
Also, start with hot water during the day. It’s very good for your metabolism and stomach. I really believe these little things add to your day a lot.
It’s not often you play someone who is 10 years younger than you, but you get Jannik Sinner next. Does it feel strange in any way, being on the other side of that age gap now?
It’s a good question. Clearly even when I was 24 or 25, I had to play some guys who were 19, 20, so I think I’m used to that. Now the gap can only get bigger and bigger. You need to use the right adjustment for that, because it’s inevitable. It’s life. However you look at it, you’re starting to be on the other end. I think acceptance is the number one thing.
I never want to underestimate my opponents, wherever I play. He’s a great player, upcoming, he’s hungry, he’s from Italy and wants to do well. There are a lot things that are leaning on his end—absolutely. I’m going to approach that match just as any other match. I’m going to be professional, really focus on looking after my side of the net. That’s the most important, because you don’t want to play anyone else’s game.