Dimitrov second wind an ode to one-handed backhand too | Tennis News - Hindustan Times
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Dimitrov second wind an ode to one-handed backhand too

Apr 02, 2024 10:35 PM IST

The Bulgarian’s impressive run in the last six months has lifted him into world No.9 in the rankings after 260 weeks

"He played amazing tennis, almost perfect. I couldn't find solutions or a way to make him feel uncomfortable… He made me feel like I'm 13 years old. It was crazy. I was telling my team that I don't know what to do. I don't know his weakness. I don't know anything.”

Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria reacts against Jannik Sinner of Italy in the men's final of the Miami Open at Hard Rock Stadium on March 31, 2024 in Miami Gardens, Florida.(Getty Images via AFP)
Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria reacts against Jannik Sinner of Italy in the men's final of the Miami Open at Hard Rock Stadium on March 31, 2024 in Miami Gardens, Florida.(Getty Images via AFP)

This was Carlos Alcaraz, world No.3 and winner of the Indian Wells title a few days earlier, after his straight sets loss to Grigor Dimitrov in the Miami Open quarter-finals last week. To be fair, the young Spaniard wasn’t at his best in terms of movement and shot-making in that match. But the 6-2, 6-4 scoreline was also a reflection of the high note the Bulgarian has managed to hit 16 years after making his ATP Tour debut.

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It was a second successive win against Alcaraz for Dimitrov, having got the better of the two-time Grand Slam champion at the Shanghai Masters last October. He backed that up by beating fourth seed Alexander Zverev to make his first Miami final, which ensured he jumped from No.12 to No.9 in the rankings – his first stint in the top 10 since October 2018.

In the history of the ATP rankings, Dimitrov’s 260-week gap is the third longest between appearances in the top 10 for any player.

There is, perhaps, an argument to be made that the 32-year-old is playing the best tennis of his life at the moment. As suggested by Alcaraz, he’s tough to break down when he’s moving as well as he is these days. After reaching the Paris Masters final last October, he began this year by beating Holger Rune to emerge champion in Brisbane – his first title since 2017. He backed that up by making the final in Marseille and the semis in Rotterdam. He has a 20-5 win-loss record this year and has won six of his last 10 matches against top 10 players.

To fully appreciate his resurgence in this latter half of his career, though, one has to remember the years of struggle he went through not long ago. Having reached a career-high ranking of No.3 in 2017, he suffered injuries and indifferent form from 2019 to 2022 and dropped to 28 in the rankings. However, his skill was never in question and he managed to find second wind by focussing on fitness.

“Whatever I say doesn’t do it justice. For me, I fight my own battles,” Dimitrov said after reaching the Miami Open final last week.

“I run my own race. All that comes with the work we all put in as a team. I’m at a very different path in my life and my career. A lot was done. A lot of work. A lot of everything behind it. So, I don’t want to go too far back. There’s no reason for it. I kept on believing. I kept on thriving. I kept on having faith in myself. When I didn’t believe in myself enough, all the team around me was constantly pushing me in the right direction. I had very good discipline. My family was by my side. All the close friends. It’s all love at the end of the day. This is just a cherry on the cake.”

Dimitrov’s impressive run over the past six months also means there’s a player with a single-handed backhand in the top 10 of the rankings once again. A key talking point in tennis a couple of months ago was Stefanos Tsitsipas slipping to No.11, which meant there was no player with one-handed backhand in the top 10 for the first time since the ATP Rankings began in 1973.

However, Dimitrov’s recent performances against the best players, particularly the ultra-versatile Alcaraz, have shown there is still space for that one-hander. The Bulgarian has been disguising his backhands wonderfully, highlighting the importance of slicing the ball and keeping it low against quick movers, which is near impossible to do with the double-hander.

It’s suggested that one of the reasons why double-handed backhands are dominating the game is the control they offer players. But Dimitrov, having got his mojo back, is continuing to show there’s a sense of artistry that's exclusive to the one-hander.

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