Grigor Dimitrov’s rise in 2017: his incredible journey to world No. 3

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Grigor Dimitrov’s rise in 2017: his incredible journey to world No. 3

With the win at the 2017 ATP World Tour Finals, Grigor Dimitrov secured his career highlight of world No. 3. He also won his maiden Masters 1000 title, in Cincinnati, to go along with the other two ATP 250 titles earlier this year. 2017 has been a remarkable year for the Bulgarian, who is playing with a new focus that is finally matching his talent. That is, until now. All the momentum is with the 26-year-old going into 2018—where he’s traditionally done well—during the first half of the hard court season. It’s very likely he could make his first grand slam final at the Australian Open.

A far cry from 2016

Dimitrov may have been the surprise winner at the London ATP event, but his road to Top 3 form is anything but. Always regarded as a talented player with a beautiful all-around game, he’s either been compared similarly to Roger Federer (“baby Fed”) or been regarded as a player who couldn’t quite break through the Big Four barrier. When he dropped down to No. 40 in July 2016, it seemed that the criticisms were confirmed.

But the Bulgarian talent has been building himself back up since then. After his dip in form that summer, he broke back into the Top 20 by the fall. He achieved his greatest inroads into the Australian Open by making the semifinals, where he suffered a difficult five-set defeat against Nadal. But his win at the Masters Western & Southern Open propelled him back into the Top 10 of this year. He demonstrated unwavering form the entire World Tour Finals week, the only player to remain undefeated throughout the tournament. It looks like the eight-time ATP titlist has finally found the winning formula that blends his incredible talent with the mental strength he needed to push him through to major titles.

"A couple of years ago when I dropped my ranking to the low 40s, I think that was a tough moment for me," he said. "That was a period when I was most uncertain about myself and my game, and the way I wanted to structure myself as a player after that.”

"I never lost the belief and the faith, and I think we're going to have higher goals for next year."

The perfect coaching partnership

Much of Grigor Dimitrov’s rise back to the top has coincided with the hiring of his coach, Daniel Vallverdu, the first person the Bulgarian hugged after he won his ATP Finals title. Vallverdu was brought on in the middle of 2016 and has helped the 26-year-old player hone his talent and harness a winning approach. Dimitrov has a wide spectrum of winning shots and a plentitude of talent, and where Vallverdu has helped is streamlining all of the player’s potential. He’s worked with Dimitrov to simplify his approach to greater strategy and maintain his composure during high-pressure points.

Dimitrov battled through nerves, especially in the final, and found a way to win,” Vallverdu said “When Dimitrov is in his zone, he obviously plays at a very high level but we've worked on getting him to compete even on those days when he's off. It became a question of attitude in the final, and Grigor answered that question.”

Over the course of a year, they’ve developed a level-headed strategy that’s lead up to the incredible results, culminating in the biggest dual prize for the Bulgarian: the ATP World Tour Finals crown—and undefeated too—and the career high of world No. 3.

He's always been a top-flight player but in tennis, there's more to it than performing well in tournaments,” Vallverdu said, “The daily dedication, the training and the drive to keep improving – all of that has to come together, and it has for Grigor.

Finding belief in himself

With his breakthrough titles this year, Grigor Dimitrov is no longer “Baby Fed,” a moniker that still annoys when it’s mentioned.

“I hope people don’t call him Baby Fed so often anymore,” Federer told reporters back in 2013, according to Tennis Magazine. “At first it’s funny, but it gets annoying.”

Dimitrov first broke into the Top 10 in July 2014, when he was 23. Although he’s demonstrated consistent form since then, he’s always been viewed under the 19-time grand slam champion, in both titles and stature.

But the Bulgarian has stamped his own career with the results that show he truly deserves the world No. 3 spot. He’s also worked with a mental roadmap to achieve his most successful year to date and doesn’t look anywhere close to slowing down.

Of course, one of my main goals is to win a grand slam tournament,” Dimitrov said after his ATP Finals win. “This has always been a dream of mine.”

Obviously, this is a great, unbelievable achievement for me. But I still have a lot to give. I want to perform better and better.”

Considering that Grigor Dimitrov was just one match away from making the Australian Open finals this year, it’s a good bet he’ll make that final spot in 2018. What could possibly make for a greater year than 2017, with his first Masters 1000 and ATP Finals titles? A grand slam one. It looks like the Bulgarian has found the winning formula to fulfill his greatest potential.

Grigor Dimitrov, a major contender for grand slam success in 2018.