REUTERS – The man once labelled “Baby Federer” was supposed to have outgrown the original version by now, but Grigor Dimitrov is still living firmly in the shadow of the Swiss maestro.
Bulgarian Dimitrov will get another chance on Friday, however, to prove that despite a slower-than-expected rise towards the summit of tennis, he can deliver on his promise.
Standing in his way in the Australian Open third round will be 17-times grand slam champion Roger Federer, who at 34 shows no sign of fading as he seeks a fifth title at Melbourne Park.
World number three Federer has been sublime so far, cruising through his first two rounds, while Dimitrov, 10 years younger than the man his game seems modelled on, struggled to suppress wild-haired Argentine Marco Trungelliti on Wednesday before completing a 6-3 4-6 6-2 7-5 victory.
Dimitrov, the former boyfriend of Russian five-times grand slam champion Maria Sharapova, is not one for hyperbole and has tired of the comparisons between himself and Federer since he won the Wimbledon junior title.
But he knows Friday represents an opportunity to kickstart his career again after a lull.
“It’s a match that I want to play,” he told reporters. “You never know, one tournament can change everything for you. You never know when that might be.”
Dimitrov was ranked eight in the world in 2014 after beating defending champion Andy Murray to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals, but since then has fallen behind Japan’s Kei Nishikori and Canada’s Milos Raonic in the new wave of players.
Unlike those two he has never qualified for the ATP World Tour Finals, the end-of-season showdown of the world’s elite, and he went backwards in 2015, eventually splitting with coach Roger Rasheed after a third-round loss at Wimbledon.
With several young guns snapping at his heels, Dimitrov needs a big year and with Argentine Franco Davin, the man who took Gaston Gaudio to the French Open title and Juan-Martin del Potro to U.S. Open glory, his corner, the signs are encouraging.
He reached the final in Sydney, squandering a match point against Serb Viktor Troicki, and has begun solidly at Melbourne Park where he reached the quarter-finals in 2014.
Though Federer has never lost to Dimitrov, he is wary after being pushed all the way when edging a tight quarter-final in Brisbane earlier this month.
“I think he did well in Sydney, and that definitely also gave him a bit of a lift if he takes the positives out of the tournament, because wasting match point in a final is not a great thing,” Federer, never one to miss a trick, told reporters after his easy win over Alexandr Dolgopolov.
“He’s on a high right now. I think it’s a tough draw, to be honest. He’s got the game to be really dangerous.”
(Writing by Martyn Herman; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)