Grigor Dimitrov’s amazing talent has been lauded since he was a teenager, but his mental toughness has been questioned.
But in his 6-7(6) 6-4 6-4 6-3 victory over American Bradley Klahn in intense heat at Melbourne Park on Tuesday, he showed off his improved fitness as well as mental resilience.
After a patchy first set when he often played too passive and allowed the charging Klahn to consistently hurt him with his left-handed forehand, Dimitrov approached the second set much more aggressively.
He stopped over-slicing his backhand, dictated with his huge forehand adeptly, and moved the ball around. Even though he blew four set points in the first set, three on unforced errors, the 22-year-old Bulgarian didn't lose hope when he went for his shots.
He found better depth with his return of serves, and confused Klahn with the variety of his own serves. He hustled hard even though he was hatless in 43-degree heat.
The No. 22-ranked Bulgarian is the youngest player in the world top 25, and last year, made a big move up the ranking charts after struggling for parts of 2011 and 2012. He won his first career title in Stockholm, reached the final of Brisbane and scored wins over top five players David Ferrer and Novak Djokovic.
In the off-season, he hired notable Australian coach Roger Rasheed to lead his 2014 campaign. Rasheed is a no-nonsense coach who has been in charge of Lleyton Hewitt, Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, so he knows the ropes of the tour very well.
It is clear to him that the Bulgarian is loaded with talent and touch, but he still has a lot to learn about every aspect of the game and what a champion’s commitment really means.
“I like him as a young man; he's a respectful young man and he's got a lot of that natural ability that can take him to the top down the track,'' Rasheed told Melbourne newspaper The Age. “But it's a process but they are the sorts of things to excite me about coaching. He's got a good understanding of what culture I want to bring to the table. Grigor is a young kid and he needs me to lead him around a bit, especially at a Grand Slam. He hasn't really put himself in the position of being in the second week of a Slam. So he needs to learn the grand slam journey as well.''
Dimitrov has been dating 2008 Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova for more than a year. While she won’t take credit for his progress, her work ethic does appear to have rubbed off on him. Plus, he could use a little of her own court ice queen attitude.
''Maria's hungry. She's got that great mentality that she wants to get out there and kill,'' Rasheed said. ''So you're going into that space, you're watching someone who's been very dedicated and devoted, regardless of what dollar signs are near her name. That's irrelevant. To be [off the tour] injured killed her. She lives to be on the tennis court, so I think that's a great rub-off, and they've worked it very well.”