Ask any tennis expert to predict the game’s “Next Big Thing” and Grigor Dimitrov’s name invariably arises – and with good reason too. Graceful, athletic and fluid, he’s also captivating a growing fan base with a natural charisma that’s somehow evident both on and off the court.
For all the excitement, however, the 22-year-old possesses a CV that pales alongside a junior career that included two Grand Slam boys’ titles (2008 Wimbledon and US Open) and the world No.3 ranking. Senior highlights so far are a single career title (Stockholm 2013) and a runner-up result in Brisbane last year, with Dimitrov’s best major result a third-round showing at the 2013 French Open.
If the imbalance between talent and milestones is a frustration to the good-natured Bulgarian, he’s not showing it. Rather, he’s taken a pro-active approach with the appointment of Roger Rasheed, hoping that the Aussie coach can help him capitalise on his much-discussed potential.
“He brought a lot of good things, a lot of different things I would say,” Dimitrov said of the impact that Rasheed has had on his game. “I like his personality. He’s a very strong-minded person and I think that helps a lot. You know, it’s good to have somebody strong on your side. He’s a great guy on and off the court – tough but fair.”
Certainly the results showed quickly when Dimitrov teamed up with Rasheed – a former coach to Lleyton Hewitt, Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – late in the 2013 season, with the Bulgarian immediately breaking through to claim that first career title in Stockholm, where he overcame world No.3 David Ferrer in the final.
While that achievement would naturally seem to lend itself to some bigger ambitions in 2014, Dimitrov is keeping those objectives quiet. “I think the main goal is just to keep working and give 100 percent and of course try to be the best I can,” he said. “I know the goals that I want to achieve in my head and I’m sure with time I can definitely step up there and actually start proving it more and more.”
Peaking at a career high No.22 late in 2013, Dimitrov is clearly still some way off the world No.1 ranking that respected French publication L’Equipe predicted he would achieve by 2018. Even so, there are few people who watch him compete that don’t see the obvious comparisons between Dimitrov and Roger Federer.
It made the first meeting between the two players, a quarterfinal in Basel last October, one that was keenly anticipated by most observers. Although after a straight-sets loss, Dimitrov himself was most interested in learning from the match.
“I was really excited coming out on the court but I think definitely I’m going to have to improve next time we play,” he said, pointing to his growing experience against the game’s biggest stars. “I’ve played all the top 10 guys, it’s just a matter of time for me.”
Patience could well be the key for Dimitrov. Having started playing tennis with his father, a coach, at age three in the southern Bulgarian city of Haskovo, he’s maintained a keen focus on an objective to achieve a world No.1 ranking like his idol, Pete Sampras.
At the same time, Dimitrov has also developed off-court interests of cars, computers and watches, along with a relationship with champion women's player, Maria Sharapova.
There are many facets to becoming the Next Big Thing in tennis and many will be watching for Dimitrov's Next Big Steps.
Grigor Dimitrov is appearing at the AAMI Classic this week ahead of Australian Open 2014.