Grigor Dimitrov took the biggest scalp of his career, defeating world number one Novak Djokovic in the second round of the Mutua Madrid Open 7-6, 6-7, 6-3. The match, played in the evening on May 7, went on for more than three hours.
Dimitrov has improved against top-ranked players this year and came close to upsetting Rafael Nadal at the Monte-Carlo Masters last month. He has also played strong opening sets against Djokovic (at Indian Wells) and Andy Murray (in Miami), before wilting under pressure.
But he now appears to have overcome those mental obstacles, delivering the best match of his career to match Djokovic from start to finish, even if the world number one did not look to be at his full strength.
Djokovic, the 2011 champion in Madrid, appeared to be struggling with the ankle injury that he sustained last month, which he further aggravated in the second set when he twisted his injured ankle midway through the second set.
“For 12 days after Monte-Carlo, I haven’t touched the racquet […] I didn’t prepare myself so well,” Djokovic said after the match. “But I’m not trying to find any excuses for the loss. I tried to do my best. All the credit also to Dimitrov, because he was the better player on the court. He was striking the ball really well, serving great, changing the pace and he deserved to win.”
Djokovic won his first Monte-Carlo title last month despite the bum ankle, defeating Nadal in the final and snapping the Spaniard’s run of eight consecutive titles. The crowd in Madrid took offense and was firmly on Dimitrov’s side throughout the match, cheering his winners and booing Djokovic.
The two players were evenly matched, but it was the Serbian that had the better chances in the first set. Dimitrov saved three set points, one on his serve at 4-5 and two more in the tie-break, coming back from 4-6 with four straight points to wrap up the tie-break 8-6.
In the second set, both Djokovic and Dimitrov struggled with fitness issues – the former required a medical time-out after rolling his ankle and Dimitrov suffered from cramps.
Dimitrov had the opportunity to close the match early, but Djokovic saved a match point before winning the tie-break 10-8 and forcing a third set.
“I thought the tie-break was pretty intense obviously,” Dimitrov said after the match. “He stepped up on a few shots. He’s Novak. At the end of the day, you can expect anything from him. He played a great tiebreak, so I couldn’t do much […] Of course I tried to stay really positive. I believed in myself. I think that was the big spark coming into the third set.”
In the decisive set, Dimitrov broke his opponent’s serve early to take a 2-0 lead and never looked back. He secured victory on his second match-point of the night at 5-3, breaking Djokovic’s serve in the process.
“It’s a great win for me. Good day at the office. I know it’s a big thing, of course. But you got to stay grounded. Hopefully you’re going to face these guys for years. You never know how it’s going to be next time […] You got to be ready and try to work at it every day and see it as just another test to do and something exciting to look forward,” Dimitrov said.
The Bulgarian will play his third-round match on May 9, against either Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland or Colombian Santiago Giraldo.
(Grigor Dimitrov, photo: mirsasha/flickr.com)