Grigor Dimitrov Entering Make-or-Break Stage in His Career

Joe Kennard@@JoeKennardFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2015

Tennis player Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria attends a press conference for the ATP Malaysia Open tennis tournament in Kuala Lumpur on September 29, 2015.   AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN        (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
MOHD RASFAN/Getty Images

Grigor Dimitrov’s momentum quickly and completely vanished in 2015.

Once hailed as a budding star and future Grand Slam champion, the 24-year-old Bulgarian is currently mired in a deep rut he can’t seem to escape. He’s fallen further and further from grace throughout this season, stumbling to a pedestrian 27-17 record and barely hanging around the top 20.

Few could’ve predicted this plot twist for Dimitrov. Last year, he surged to a career-high rank of No. 8 in the world, winning titles in Acapulco, Bucharest and Queen’s Club. Over 15 months later, he’s still searching for another trophy.

The slump is real.

Last year's success now seems like a distant memory for Dimitrov.
Last year's success now seems like a distant memory for Dimitrov.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Not only has Dimitrov failed to take home any hardware in 2015—he hasn’t even made a single final. His game seems to have stagnated, and he’s stuck in the mud, trying to find that extra gear to get back on the right path. Who knows when (or if) Dimitrov will be able to do so.

That’s a surprising thing to say for a guy who reached the Wimbledon semifinals just a year ago. When he beat Andy Murray in the quarterfinals there, thanks to a virtuoso performance, the forecast looked incredibly bright for Dimitrov. Now, it’s cloudier than ever.

It’s not too early to call this a crossroads for him. Dimitrov’s no longer a green prospect; he’s an established presence on the ATP Tour. While he’s still relatively young, Dimitrov’s slow development has set him back, and the clock is ticking for him to prove something.

After Wimbledon, Dimitrov himself echoed that sentiment, telling the the Press Association (h/t the Guardian):

I’m 24, I don’t consider myself that young anymore. Last year was an eye-opener for me, it showed me what I was capable of. I fell into a rhythm that I always wanted to, but I always knew it was very hard to sustain. Especially this year, I’ve had quite a few difficulties to cooperate with the situation that I’m not playing as good as last year.

It comes down to a bit of mental strength, something that you really need to sort of look at it and maybe see what you can do different.

Players mature and come into their own at different rates. Look at Stan Wawrinka, whose mid-career renaissance at age 28 has landed him two Grand Slam titles in the past two seasons. In the men’s game these days, there seems to be more players who peak in their late 20s. So there is credence to the idea that time hasn’t passed Dimitrov by yet.

But he needs to start showing some kind of positive sign. Otherwise, he’ll be destined to end up as another flash in the pan.

What’s the biggest problem currently affecting him? It might be something as simple as a lack of confidence. Bad omens manifested for Dimitrov at the start of 2015 when he was shellacked in Brisbane by Roger Federer and suffered a meltdown against Murray at the Australian Open. In the latter match, he blew two separate 3-0 set leads and angrily obliterated his racket. That loss set the tone for what would follow.

Dimitrov's woes have escalated since the 2015 Australian Open.
Dimitrov's woes have escalated since the 2015 Australian Open.Vincent Thian/Associated Press

His only two wins over a top-10 player this year both came against Wawrinka during the European clay-court swing. Not that he's had many chances to replicate that feat. Outside of Monte Carlo and Madrid, Dimitrov hasn’t advanced to quarterfinals at any of the other big tournaments. His best showing at a major came when he fell to Murray in the fourth round Down Under.

Dimitrov used to be nicknamed “Showtime,” but he’s been anything but that moniker this season. His second-round exit from the U.S. Open to journeyman Mikhail Kukushkin was bad enough, but the absolute low point came when Jack Sock bounced him at the French Open in straight sets. A humbled Dimitrov didn’t find much salvation at Wimbledon, where Richard Gasquet took him out in the third round.

Since that defeat, Dimitrov’s been in a state of massive change. Gone from the team is Roger Rasheed, who played a critical role in his success last season. His high-profile relationship with Maria Sharapova? Also over. Dimitrov’s even toyed with different rackets, trying anything and everything to find solutions.

On and off the court, his life’s been in flux the past few months. Whether or not all those moves pay off, he at least deserves credit for turning over every stone in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Yet that tinkering will prove in vain if he doesn't start producing more wins.

Perhaps his recent hiring of Franco Davin as coach will help spur a turnaround. Davin worked by Juan Martin del Potro’s side for years, guiding the Argentine to a title at the 2009 U.S. Open. Another voice, especially one with that type of resume, is exactly what Dimitrov needs right now. Someone needs to hold Dimitrov accountable, impart knowledge and push him to improve. Maybe Davin can be that figure.

Mediocrity bugs Dimitrov. He’s capable of so much more than what he’s shown in 2015, and this stretch of poor play has to be weighing heavily on his shoulders. Dimitrov certainly possesses the raw talent to be a champion. We’ll just have to wait a little longer to see if he has the right amount of mettle and belief.

All statistics are courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com unless otherwise noted. 

Joe Kennard is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. 

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