On Sunday, Grigor Dimitrov was down 1-3 in his first two sets with Dominic Thiem. On both occasions, the world No. 3 was unable to consolidate his break of serve, and Dimitrov roared back, with interest, to pull away from last year’s Australian Open finalist, 6-4, 6-4, 6-0.
Questions arose about Thiem’s health, what he may have been dealing with during the match or whether his five-setter with Nick Kyrgios had any residual effect. But make no mistake, Dimitrov has talked all tournament long about his great preparation, and he’s delivered on that declaration in making a fourth trip to the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park.
In his previous press conference, Dimitrov shared he didn't feel the need to hit the practice court for an extra session that day after spending 38 minutes on court when Pablo Carreno Busta retired down 0-6, 0-1. The former ATP Finals champion also stated his preference for playing on Valentine’s Day, wanting to capitalize on any additional “good vibes” there for the taking.
“It's so nice to play tennis on that day. So hopefully I have a good day,” he said.
Dimitrov all but confirmed just that in winning his fourth match in six meetings with the 2020 US Open champion. In the fifth game of the match, Thiem held seven game points for 4-1. Dimitrov didn't allow his mind wander away from his side of the court, staving each one off, before working his way back to open a one-set lead.
"Yeah, saving that game I think was big," Dimitrov reflected in press. "I felt that I'm going to get a chance at some point again. I even thought that the first two break points, he played an outstanding two points. I felt like I couldn't have done anything else any better, and the problem is in matches like that, sometimes you can get too many opportunities, but you might not use even one.
"It could have happened, but I stayed, I think, very calm, and I was really focusing on every point, especially when he was 3-1 up and like 40-15. I said, 'I'm going to play every point.' I knew physically I was feeling well. I could have chased a lot of balls down. I favored also some of my shots at the right time, and like it came very nicely."
His trips to the net in first 10 games didn't yield a desired success rate, so the Bulgarian shifted his approach to a more selective mindset. As they traded blows, Dimitrov slowly broke Thiem down to perfectly navigate his way through a clash with significant stakes on the line. The No. 18 seed matched Thiem in striking 25 winners, but donated 18 fewer unforced errors in comfortably advancing a shade past the two-hour mark.
“Throughout every season, you have one of those matches where you just keep the ball rolling. I think today was just one of those days,” he told Colin Fleming. “I was entirely trying to focus on what I was doing, the game plan that I had.”
Dimitrov added that Thiem may not have been at full strength, though also stated he wasn’t “going to be that humble” in assessing the outcome of their match.
“I think he might have struggled with something, I don’t know. But I also want to give myself credit for staying focused and composed throughout the three sets. He’s an unbelievable player.”
Thiem confirmed the presence of physical issues, though chose not to go into detail during his press conference.
"I don't want to go closer to them. I don't want to find any excuses,: he said. "But the thing is that I'm also not a machine. Sometimes I would like to be, but there are really, really bad days. As soon as you're not a hundred percent there on the court on this level, then results like this come up, and that's exactly what happened today."
For a place in the semifinals, Dimitrov will take on qualifier Aslan Karatsev, who rallied from two sets down to knock out No. 20 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, 3-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.
"I didn't feel my game from the beginning. It was tough to really serve, and he also broke me down from the beginning, so already I was down in the set," said the world No. 114. "I just found the rhythm in the third set. I said, 'Okay, I would keep playing and go a bit far to the return and make him play more balls', and yeah, I think that was the right strategy."
Karatsev is the seventh man to reach the quarterfinals on his major main-draw debut and the first since 1996 Wimbledon when Alex Radulescu achieved the feat. The Russian will hope history doesn't repeat itself, as the previous six all saw their fairytales end in the final eight.