Email
Print
Email
Print

Grigor Dimitrov scores emotional upset over Novak Djokovic at Madrid Open

Decrease fontDecrease font
Enlarge fontEnlarge font
Grigor Dimitrov

Grigor Dimitrov picked up the biggest victory of his career on Tuesday. (Julian Finney/AP).

Grigor Dimitrov stunned top-ranked Novak Djokovic 7-6 (6), 6-7 (8), 6-3 on Tuesday in the second round of the Madrid Open. It was a dramatic three-hour, five-minute match that featured a hostile crowd, injury woes and cramping that looked like it might derail Dimitrov’s upset bid.

Three thoughts on the young Bulgarian’s breakthrough win in the ATP Tour’s longest three-setter of the year.

1. It’s been a long time coming. The debate surrounding Dimitrov over the years was whether he had substance to back up his style. It feels like we’ve been waiting for the 21-year-old to make his mark on tour ever since he won the junior titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2008. But this is really the first year that Dimitrov has showed that he might just live up to all of the hype that came with being given (or cursed with) the “Baby Federer” nickname.

His results have improved after leaving the Mouratoglou Academy for Sweden’s Good to Great Academy in December. He made his first ATP final in January, losing to Andy Murray in two tight sets at the Brisbane International. He also served for the first set against Djokovic at the BNP Paribas Open and against Murray at the Sony Open only to throw in multiple double faults and fail to convert. Then in Monte Carlo a few weeks ago he took a set off Rafael Nadal — Rafael Nadal! In Monte Carlo! — before losing in the quarterfinals.

Ranking the top ATP players under 23 years old

So the stage was set for Dimitrov to at least challenge Djokovic, who was playing his first match since beating Nadal in the Monte Carlo final 16 days ago. At first, it looked like a redux of their Indian Wells showdown, with Dimitrov once again serving for the first set only to be broken with relative ease. Djokovic was poised to run away with the tiebreaker after building a 4-1 lead, but Dimitrov stormed back with some clutch serving and benefited from a few loose errors from Djokovic to save two set points and win the breaker 8-6.

Things got dramatic in the second set. Down 2-4 but with a chance to break, Djokovic rolled his right ankle (the same ankle he injured last month in a Davis Cup tie against the United States) and looked to be in severe pain before taking a medical timeout to get it re-taped. He was able to secure the break when play resumed, and then it was Dimitrov’s turn to feel the physical toll of the match. His fitness has been a question mark throughout his career and sure enough he began to cramp late in the second set. After Dimitrov lost the second-set tiebreaker 10-8, the conventional wisdom was that he was done and dusted. He’s never shown the physical and mental resiliency to pull off a three-set win like this.

But Djokovic came out flat in the third and Dimitrov took advantage immediately by breaking the Serb in the first game. Dimitrov went on to hold serve throughout the set and then broke Djokovic again to complete the biggest win of his career. In tears after the match, Dimitrov wrote, “I love you dad” on the camera and soaked in the crowd’s adulation. In a week in which 22-year-old Milos Raonic was upset in his opening second-round match and 20-year-old Bernard Tomic was embroiled in some unfortunate controversy, it was good to see a youngster step up with a big performance.

2. Don’t read too much into Djokovic’s performance. His inability to shut the door on a limping Dimitrov to start the third set was a shocker, but Djokovic says he didn’t touch a racket for 12 days after the Monte Carlo in order to rest and heal his ankle. He also had to use an inordinate amount of energy to deal with the hostile Madrid crowd, which clearly took delight in his mistakes from the beginning. Yes, Djokovic yelled a Serbian expletive its way after he won the second-set tiebreaker after being whistled at following his ankle injury, with the fans possibly believing it was an act of gamesmanship. Then they booed him off the court after the loss.

“[Djokjovic] not talking much about the crowd, just said he doesn’t understand why they were so hostile,” one reporter tweeted after the match.

Given his lack of preparation and the unique conditions in Madrid — a newly laid court and the altitude — it’s hard to read into this result in any meaningful way. This is not the Djokovic we will see in Rome or Paris.

“Very happy for young Dimitrov, such a charismatic player to watch!” ATP commentator Rob Koenig tweeted. “But in all honesty, Djokovic was at 65% this evening.”

3. Let’s hold off on the ticker-tape parade for Grigor: This was a big win for Dimitrov — he becomes the first of the 22-and-under group to beat the original Big Three of Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer — but it was just one win. It’s still alarming that he’s cramping in the second set of a match and this isn’t the first time this has happened. He cramped against Nadal in Monte Carlo and against Richard Gasquet last year at Roland Garros. He needs to get physically stronger if he’s going to compete at the Slams and have deep runs at ATP events. But the best thing about Tuesday’s win is that Dimitrov showed everyone, including himself, that he can gut out a victory when he’s physically compromised. This was as much a psychological win as a physical one.

Dimitrov will get a well-deserved day of rest Wednesday (though he’s scheduled for doubles) and take on either Stanislas Wawrinka or Santiago Giraldo on Thursday.

  • Published On May 07, 2013
  • 6 comments
    IdaAnnaTaylor
    IdaAnnaTaylor

    I think Djoker, Nadal, and Murray all 'milk' their perceived issues oncourt.  Murray is the most notorious for grimacing and acting like he's about to fall over, but he doesn't usually call for MTOs.  Djoker and Nadal have a rep for calling suspect MTOs.  Sometimes they may very well have been legit, but once you have that rep, it never goes away.

    James117
    James117

    There is one simple reason for the Spanish crowd's response to Djokovic (cheering his faults, etc): they know that Rafa's chances of winning rise astronomically if Novak is out of the tournament.  At various points you could even hear people screaming "come on Rafa".  Reminds me a little of the way the French Open crowd cheered for Soderling to upset Rafa a few years back.  They weren't really cheering for Soderling, they were cheering for Federer.  I don't know whether it makes sense to lump some of Djokovic's previous timeouts with this one.  In this case it was clear to see he tweaked his ankle and everyone knows he damaged it only a few weeks ago.  What gets me about this performance, and his performance against Haas a few weeks ago is his attitude.  He seems to go between being annoyed and not wanting to be out there.  There used to be a look about him the last 2 and a half years.  A "I am going to fight this point with everything I have" look.  These days he doesn't seem to be able to summon that look as often.  When a player is in the moment things like the crowd and the extra-slippery surface don't seem to bother him.  When he starts to react to those things, like Djokovic did last night, it is a clear indicator that he is not psychologically there the way he usually is.  The other thing I noticed about this match in particular was his reluctance to come to net.  Also, keep in mind, that he had set points in the first set.  In at least one case he had a middle of the court forehand and just played it back and stayed back.  If he had crushed that ball and come to net (which is something he does often these days) the match would have been his in two sets.  That's how slim the margins are at this level: one point, one shot, one inch, can decide a match.  Knowing that you just accept that sometimes that one point goes your way (more often than not in his case) and other times it doesn't, c'est la vie.

    shelley
    shelley

    "Djokovic looked to be in severe pain".  C'mon you guys.  Give me a break.  When is the media going to start calling Djokovic out for the drama queen that he is? He's constantly moaning and complaining and grimacing and gasping and clutching various body parts only to go out and run like a gazelle. And you wonder why crowds boo him.

    SingleAlley
    SingleAlley

    Milo beat Davydenko in his first round match.

    badgernation74
    badgernation74

     @shelley

     I remember in 2011 during both the Wimbledon and US Open Finals he had injury time outs. Djokovic was making faces of such extreme agony that the analysts wondered if he was going to retire. He's been this way since the juniors. He has such a great game, and can have an engaging personality, but this gamesmanship has prevented me from ever being a fan. He has retired from matches in each of the four Grand Slams. Once as defending champion in Australia while getting a beatdown from Roddick.

    BenNev
    BenNev

     @badgernation74  @shelley Actually at the US Open his medical time out was completely justified and anyone could see it. First of all he was 2 sets to 1 against Nadal, who he had beaten 5 times in a row already. He hardly needed to use gamesmanship. Secondly, his serve slowed down so he was barely rolling it in!  The following week he had to quit a Davis Cup match, walking off the court crying. Djokovic is the most patriotic guy he is, he wouldn't do that for no reason. 

     

    As for Wimbledon, he never had a medical timeout in the final anyway! Nadal had a timeout against Del Potro and said he felt like his foot was broken, and then a scan showed his foot was completely fine. He has also taken many MTO's, including against Federer when Rog has been serving. People hate Djokovic and Nadal for all this, but maybe they are just hypochondriacs?

     

    It is also possible that people are being biased. Djokovic's back injury in 2011 and him rolling his ankle are not debatable, only very bitter haters would say that. The same is true of some of Nadal's injury woes, though it does seem who leans on that too heavily sometimes when he loses.