Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov reached the first Grand Slam quarter-final of his career at the Australian Open with a four-set victory over Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut (6-3, 3-6, 6-2 6-4) on January 20, setting up a mouth-watering showdown against world number one Rafael Nadal.
Bautista Agut had delivered the biggest upset in the men’s singles draw of this year’s tournament, ousting fifth-seed Juan Martin Del Potro in the second round, but his run came to an end against Dimitrov, who edged the Spaniard to record more winning shots and fewer unforced errors.
As in his third-round victory against 11th-seed Milos Raonic, Dimitrov took advantage of the few openings he was given, converting four of five break points (his opponent had as many chances, but converted only one).
After a quick start, Dimitrov won the first set, but his game inexplicably dropped off in the second. Given the opportunity to engage in the long baseline rallies he excels in, Bautista Agut won the second frame, but Dimitrov surged back to win the next two sets, relying heavily on a strong first-serve and his one-handed backhand.
This was the third time in four matches in Melbourne that Dimitrov was pushed to play four sets, but it was crucial he avoided a long five-setter, given that his next opponent will be Nadal, who is yet to drop a single set in the tournament so far.
Nadal looked off-kilter in his straight sets win against Japan’s Key Nishikori, but showed off his trademark resilience in refusing to drop a single frame. For all that, the world number one still needed more time to dispose of his opponent (three hours and 17 minutes) than Dimitrov (two hours and 24 minutes).
Dimitrov’s improved stamina should serve him well in a match that is unlikely to end in straight sets – in three previous meetings, all won by Nadal, Dimitrov has managed to take a set each time.
He was among the few players to give Nadal trouble during a scorching 2014 season for the Spaniard, both on the red clay of Monte Carlo and the hard courts of Cincinnati. Even as a teenager playing in one of his first ATP Tour matches, Dimitrov managed to take a set off Nadal in Rotterdam in 2009, when the Spaniard was also top of the ATP Tour rankings.
But with Nadal aiming for a second Australian Open title, which would make him only the second player after Rod Laver to win each Grand Slam at least twice, Dimitrov will face a tough challenge to continue his blistering run down under.
(Photo: Brad Touesnard/flickr.com)