Wimbledon 2014 is still the acclaimed stomping grounds of tennis’ Big Four—Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. But if there is a fifth championship threat at the All England Club, look no further than Bulgarian native Grigor Dimitrov.
Long touted as one of the sport’s rising stars, the 23-year-old Dimitrov has proven to be more than a human highlight reel.
His talent is undeniable, a mix of offensive flash and defensive dash. Yet, the key to his evolution as possibly the next big star in tennis has been effort and elbow grease. He has improved his strength and conditioning to mature into a versatile winner with titles on indoor hard courts, outdoor hard courts, clay and grass.
After two easy wins, Dimitrov looks to move into the second week and compete for the greatest title in tennis.
Gifted on Grass
Dimitrov is listed as a 16-1 long shot to win Wimbledon, according to The New York Times. Fans who watched him win London’s prestigious Aegon Championship at the Queen’s Club got a sample of how composed he has become with his tennis gifts. He looks like a natural on grass, something not lost on ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe, as noted in the source above:
He has the most tennis ability, the most variety; he’s incredibly flexible and limber...Do I think he has the most upside out of the younger players? I do.
He has all of the traditional strengths to succeed on grass. His big serve can top 130 mph. His forehands are finishers. He can step back and drill inside-out shots to the ad court. He can hit running forehand winners with a spot-on signature of Pete Sampras.
Best of all, Dimitrov has the athleticism and footwork to defend and set up his shots, essential ingredients to being a Grand Slam champion. He has learned to stretch his legs for stab returns as if he were training in the Djokovic academy for defense. His hands are quick with volleys and soft in carving up delicate drop-shots.
If he can hit his backhand with more power and depth, and if he can use it with more angles and quick approaches, he will be ready as Rolex to anoint his Wimbledon title.
Road to the Semifinals
Dimitrov is into the third round after a Centre Court shellacking of Luke Saville. He relished being the feature attraction, as stated in his post-match press interview on Wimbledon.com:
Coming on [to] that Centre Court was just definitely something to remember. How many people can say, you know, I walked on Centre Court and played a match? That's pretty awesome.
But the road to competing for the Wimbledon title still has formidable obstacles. Third-round opponent Alexandr Dolgopolov possesses impressive talent, creative counter-shots and a big game when playing well. He hammered an astounding 42 aces (in four sets) against Benjamin Becker for his second-round win. Dolgopolov vs. Dimitrov might be the best match of the first weekend.
If he continues to win, Dimitrov will be a strong favorite in the fourth round against either Leonardo Mayer or Andrey Kuznetsov. Then there's a possible match against Andy Murray in the quarterfinals, no doubt on Centre Court and with all of Great Britain to battle. We will find out just how far Dimitrov has come.
Future Wimbledon Champion?
There’s a strong belief that some year Dimitrov will be the Wimbledon champion:
The most pronounced difficulty is the present. Tennis’ Big Four are proud, decorated legends who are unwilling to concede an inch of championship turf, and they are ever-determined to win the next major. The clock may be ticking, but it only inspires them to fight harder and play with greater hunger.
If Dimitrov is to win his way into this group, he must match their mental resolves and compensate his lack of experience with superior youthful energy. It will take belief and consistency. It will take problem-solving, survival and overcoming adversity. He must feel pain and bask in triumph, realizing that his appetite for both will be necessary if he is to be the best player in the world.
Above all, he must stare down the great champions that have dominated the last decade and prove that he is their heir apparent. This he understands, as he stated in The New York Times: "I know we all want to break through. We all want to push through those Slams and start winning a few, which I believe is right around the corner for any one of us."
How will Dimitrov play in a fourth-set tiebreaker in the quarterfinals against the defending champion?
Will he keep his nerves during big points?
Is this his time to step in and make a grab for the Wimbledon trophy?
All in good time, perhaps days, but first he has a world-class challenge in Dolgopolov. Being a champion is never easy. There is always more to win.