Last time they met, Russia’s Andrey Rublev delivered an upset by knocking out Grigor Dimitrov out of the 2017 US Open, but a repeat was not on the cards, as the Bulgarian battled to a hard-fought 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory on a sizzling Rod Laver Arena in the third round of the Australian Open.
Dimitrov’s serve was broken in his very first service game, but he recovered quickly to tie the set at two games apiece and then broke Rublev’s serve for a second time to go 5-3 up, wrapping up the frame on his next service game. In the second, the Bulgarian started brightly by breaking Rublev’s serve again, but, at 4-2 up, he lost his next two service games and allowed his opponent to get back on level terms.
With temperatures nearing 40C in Melbourne, neither player was at their best, combining for 28 double faults in the match (15 for Dimitrov and 13 for Rublev) and 120 unforced errors (61 for Dimitrov and 59 for Rublev). But the Bulgarian also had the edge in the number of winners, by 45 to 29.
That edge proved crucial in the third set, when Dimitrov rallied from 2-4 down to break Rublev’s serve back-to-back, recapturing the lead after a protracted game that saw the Russian save four set points.
In the fourth frame, both players had numerous opportunities to break serve, including two break-points for Rublev as his opponent was serving for the match, but Dimitrov prevailed in the end, wrapping up his victory after just over three hours of play. For the match, Dimitrov converted six of his 19 break points, compared to Rublev, who went four-for-15.
“How I win right now, I love it,” Dimitrov said after the match, as quoted on the ATP Tour website. “I mean, on days that you don’t feel the best, those are the matches that count a lot… The bigger upside is it can only get better from now. Hopefully the next match I can be even better.”
That next match will be against the home crowd favourite, Nick Kyrgios, who played his own four-set three-hour thriller to knock out Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France in the evening session, in what promises to be one of the most interesting encounters in the fourth round of the men’s draw.
Dimitrov has a 2-1 career edge, including a straight sets victory to win his maiden Masters title in Cincinnati last year, but the Australian won their last encounter earlier this month, when he beat Dimitrov in three sets in the Brisbane semi-finals on his way to lifting the trophy.
(Photo: Brad Touesnard/flickr.com)