Another Match, Another Third-Set Tie-Break Win For Dimitrov
Reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov reached his first quarter-final since April on Thursday, outlasting #NextGenATP American Frances Tiafoe 7-6(1), 3-6, 7-6(4) at the Rogers Cup.
If winning breeds confidence, Dimitrov will take a lot out of winning two consecutive third-set tie-breaks. In the second round, the fifth seed converted match point in a deciding tie-break on an epic 35-shot rally against Fernando Verdasco, who had beaten him twice this year. And against Tiafoe, the Bulgarian rallied to win the final five points of the match.
Perhaps those performances signify the change of momentum in the World No. 5's season. Dimitrov arrived in Toronto having won just three of his previous nine matches. But now, he is as deep as he has been at a tournament since the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, where he lost in the last eight against Pablo Carreno Busta.
“I was really not focusing on winning or losing. I was just [wanting] to build up and start playing good tennis and start building the right habits. And eventually, if you do all these things right, you win. And I think those days were just that for me,” Dimitrov said.
“Clearly I'm not playing my best tennis, but I'm finding a way and managing to go through those matches, and I think I'm improving. With each game, with each point that I play, I feel more confident, more stable on the court, and everything falls into its place. So hopefully that's a great step forward for me.”
The 27-year-old is currently 18th in the ATP Race To London with 1,420 points. The Rogers Cup is a perfect event for Dimitrov to find his form, with the winner receiving 1,000 points.
Dimitrov will next face fourth seed Kevin Anderson, who beat Belarusian Ilya Ivashka 7-5, 6-3 in one hour, 29 minutes. Dimitrov has won six of his seven FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings against Anderson.
It looked like Dimitrov, an eight-time ATP World Tour champion, was in jeopardy of making it that far, though. Tiafoe immediately broke at love to begin the third set thanks to a return that was just inside the baseline. And despite double faulting to allow Dimitrov to break back, Tiafoe held two break points at 5-5. The veteran found some of his best serving when he needed it, though, hitting an ace and then another big first serve to escape trouble.
“There was quite a bit of pressure on myself having to come back and serve from a break point down. So I'm trying to channel my way in a very positive way and just try to feed off that,” Dimitrov said. “I know those kind of things are very tricky. But I've been on tour for so long... everything that comes along that is negative or something to jump, like a hurdle or whatever, I know that I'm able to turn that as a positive thing.”
Dimitrov will face another stiff test against Anderson, despite their lopsided rivalry. The South African is playing the best tennis of his life, reaching his second Grand Slam final at Wimbledon. The 32-year-old is into the Rogers Cup quarter-finals for the third consecutive year and the fourth time in five years. He has not made the last four in any of those tournaments.
Anderson has also never been in such good form. One year ago, he was World No. 32. Last month, he cracked the Top 5 for the first time. Anderson hit 15 aces and won 86 per cent of first-serve points to beat Ivashka, who had not won a Masters 1000 match before this event.
“He's been playing unbelievable throughout the whole year... Given the facts and the stats right now, for sure he's the favourite,” Dimitrov said. “But as I said, I'm very determined to just keep on fighting and keep on building from my game. I mean, this is what I want. I want to be here.”
Did You Know?
Dimitrov is now 18-9 in deciding tie-breaks at tour-level, including 3-0 this season. He saved two match points before beating Malek Jaziri in Barcelona.