Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov played some of the best tennis of his career, showcasing his improved form to start 2017, but fell short in his bid to reach his first Grand Slam final, losing to former world number one Rafael Nadal 3-6, 7-5, 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-4), 4-6 in the Australian Open semi-finals.
In a thrilling match that fell just short of the five-hour mark, Nadal made the better start, breaking Dimitrov’s service early and holding on to take the first set in just 35 minutes. In the second, the Bulgarian started playing more aggressively and venturing to the net more often and the two opponents traded several breaks of service before Dimitrov tied the match on an error from Nadal.
Dimitrov continued to play on the edge as the two players split the next two sets, recording 79 winners to Nadal’s 45, but his approach also resulted in more unforced errors (70 to 43).
In the end, as it has often been the case in his storied career, Nadal upped his game at the crucial time, saving two break-points at 3-4 in the decisive set and then broke Dimitrov’s service in the next game, helped by a double-fault from his opponent.
Dimitrov saved two match points in the final game, but Nadal would not be denied a 21st Grand Slam final, where he will meet a familiar opponent – another former world number one in Roger Federer. Nadal has a 23-11 career record against Federer, including 9-2 in Grand Slam matches and 6-2 in Grand Slam finals.
For Dimitrov, the loss ended a 10-match winning streak, the longest of his career, which included a title in Brisbane, his first in two and a half years. He is certain to get a hero’s welcome when he returns to Bulgaria in a week’s time, to play in the Garanti Koza Sofia Open, an ATP 250 tournament now in its second year.
He will face stiff competition for the title, with top-20 players Dominic Thiem, David Goffin and Roberto Bautista Agut, the defending champion, in the field of contenders. The draw for the tournament is on February 4.
(Photo: Brad Touesnard/flickr.com)