Comparison to Federer won't stop,
In Dimitrov, Winning Echoes of Federer
The rapidly improving Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, nicknamed Baby Fed by tennis observers, made a telling comment in his news conference after his upset win over 32nd-seeded Kevin Anderson. When asked about comparisons between his game and Roger Federer’s, Dimitrov, while acknowledging the “great compliment,” gave an honest assessment of his game: “I’ve not got to the second week of a Grand Slam yet and have not won an ATP event or reached the top 20 … I need to progress a lot and can’t cut any corners.”
That last phrase about not cutting corners showed Dimitrov’s growing maturity. The No. 1-ranked junior in the world in 2008 (he won the junior singles titles at Wimbledon and the United States Open), Dmitrov has game whose style was clearly modeled on Roger Federer’s, especially with his one-handed backhand and platform serve. But he has struggled to live up to the expectations thrust upon him at an early age. This year, under the guidance of the French coach Patrick Mouratoglou, Dimitrov has worked hard to improve his fitness and mental game.
On Tuesday against Anderson, the 21-year-old Bulgarian played a remarkably clean, mentally focused match. He hit 71 winners in the four-set victory, while making only 21 unforced errors. He never lost his serve, saving 11 break points with clutch serving. Dimitrov maintained an even keel emotionally throughout the match, even after faltering in the third-set tiebreaker.
Dimitrov’s serve was dominant, as he served 24 aces, four more than the big-serving Anderson. He often used a chip return off of both sides, blocking the ball back deep to get into the point. This is a favorite ploy of Federer’s, and it is fascinating to see Dimitrov construct points that look like Federer facsimiles.
He served wide to the deuce court, then went back to Anderson’s forehand corner, replicating Federer’s favorite deuce court pattern. And the wrist release on his one-handed backhand looks almost identical to Federer’s, as does the chip backhand.
One key statistic from the match showed Dimitrov’s growing discipline in his shot selection. Anderson came to the net 69 times but won only 36 points. Dimitrov did a superb job of rarely missing a passing shot. He did not always go for a winner, but he made Anderson stretch and bend on countless first volleys. In other words, he did not look for any shortcuts; he made Anderson play difficult transition volleys. With the combination of an improved mental game, powerful serving and a stingy approach to unforced errors, Dimitrov could well be a threat to go deep in the draw.