Dimitrov Eyes Perfect Group Finish In London
One week ago, Grigor Dimitrov could not contain his enthusiasm as he entered The O2 for the first time.
The giddy Bulgarian exclaimed that qualifying for the Nitto ATP Finals "was a dream come true". There's a good chance Dimitrov is still dreaming.
The sixth seed has since swept through Group Pete Sampras, ousting Dominic Thiem and David Goffin to clinch the top spot. He will look to complete a perfect run through the round-robin stage when he faces Pablo Carreno Busta on Friday evening.
The 26-year-olds have split their four FedEx ATP Head2Head encounters, with all encounters coming at the biggest tournaments. In 2014 and 2015, Dimitrov claimed a pair of straight-set routs at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events in Madrid and Paris. But Carreno Busta has since answered with authority, refusing to concede a set in prevailing in Madrid in 2016 and at Roland Garros earlier this year.
Bragging rights and plenty of prize money and Emirates ATP Rankings points will be on the line when the Bulgarian and the Spaniard clash on Friday. Dimitrov is through to the last four and Carreno Busta is eliminated from semi-final contention, but both are eager to emerge victorious.
"Every match is important to me," said Dimitrov. "It doesn't matter if I've qualified or not. I'm just going to follow my rhythm and what I've been doing right and keep on playing. I'm not here just to participate. I'm here to come out and win.
"Right now, I'm enjoying one of my best seasons. I'm still here. I'm happy."
Dimitrov is guaranteed to appear in his 30th tour-level semi-final on Saturday, against Jack Sock. He has posted a 3-4 mark in the seven semis reached this year, including on the hard courts of Brisbane, Sofia and at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati, en route to lifting the trophy at each stop.
For Carreno Busta, Friday's affair will be the culmination of a career-year on the ATP World Tour. An alternate this week in London, the World No. 10 earned his place in the field following countryman Rafael Nadal's withdrawal due to injury, and he will be keen to put his final stamp on the season.
Carreno Busta is bidding to become the first alternate to win a match at the Nitto ATP Finals since Janko Tipsarevic upset Novak Djokovic in the 2011 group stage. He had the opportunity to secure his semi-final spot, but an opening defeat to Dominic Thiem on Wednesday eliminated the Spaniard.
"I hope to do well against Grigor and make it another good match," said Carreno Busta. "I want to go to the offseason with a good taste."
If all goes according to plan for the Gijon native, he will add a maiden match win at the season finale to a season of firsts, which included his first Grand Slam semi-final at the US Open, first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semi-final in Indian Wells and first Top 10 victory (d. Raonic) at Roland Garros.
Carreno Busta will draw confidence from his performance against Thiem. The 26-year-old clawed back from a set down to force a decider, displaying the same grit and determination that saw him enjoy a career-best campaign this year. And he would give the London faithful plenty to cheer for in the third set, battling to draw level after suffering an immediate break. But Thiem was too strong in the end. Nonetheless, Carreno Busta says he is savouring every moment of his appearance at The O2.
"It has been an incredible experience," Carreno Busta added. "You really have to be here to describe it. You can't imagine what's it like. It's something very unique. When I entered the court, I had goosebumps. It is difficult to explain, but it felt great."