Thursday, October 14, 2021 - Grigor Dimitrov celebrates after defeating Hubert Hurkacz in a quarterfinal match on day 11 of the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Michael Cummo/BNP Paribas Open)
Semifinals | Stadium 1
The expectations were outsized from the start.
How could they not be? When you start drawing comparisons to Roger Federer, you can only come up short. But when, not yet 20, Grigor Dimitrov cracked the Top 100 in 2011, the parallels began to surface. The similarities — that all-court grace, the sweeping one-hander, the wrist-cocked forehand — were uncanny. And so a burdensome nickname was born: Baby Fed.
The Bulgarian has spent much of the past decade trying to emerge from that shadow. The success would come, of course. Dimitrov would outpunch World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Madrid in 2013, and later that year become the first Bulgarian to win an ATP title in Open Era (Stockholm). The following year, he would reach his first major quarterfinal at the Australian Open, then his first major semifinal at Wimbledon. In 2017, the same year he would reach a career-high No. 3, he won the Nitto ATP Finals. In the quarterfinals of the 2019 US Open, Dimitrov would upset the very icon who had long ago set those unrealistic expectations: Mr. Federer.
Dimitrov now owns eight career titles, including the ATP Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati in 2017, and has surpassed the 300 career wins mark. The 30-year-old is still seeking that first Grand Slam title, but more than ever he has become his own man. En route to the semifinals this week at the BNP Paribas Open, where he pulled off the tournament’s most high-profile upset — a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 dismissal of top seed Daniil Medvedev in the Round of 16 — Dimitrov seemed to be more at peace than ever.
“I feel different,” said the World No. 28, whose girlfriend, Russian Lolita Osmanova, has been spotted courtside this week. “I’ve been trying to get back into a good rhythm of living. I’m very focused on my everyday life as of late. I’m really trying to focus not too much on winning or losing. Every day, when I get out here on the court, I know what I’m doing. When the job is done, I move on to the next thing.”
That newfound clarity has been paying dividends this year. Dimitrov has now reached the quarterfinals or better at six events in 2021, with consecutive semifinals in San Diego and Indian Wells, where he’ll next face Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie. They faced each other earlier this year in the second round on Miami, with Norrie winning, 7-5, 7-5.
“He’s been having great results,” said the Bulgarian, who had previously never advanced beyond the third round at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. “It’s not going to be an easy match. That goes without saying. Every day, honestly, is very different out here. For example, today the ball was jumping a little bit more for some reason. Why? I cannot explain. But I think not one day is the same, especially out here in the desert. I’m really going to focus on my side of the net and try to build up a plan that I think could be the winning one.”
“Of course, there’s nerves. I feed off those nerves. I think it’s great to have them,” he added. “It means that you care and you really want to go out there and play and give your best. I always wanted to do well out here. I felt like I had so many chances throughout the years. I’ve lost very close matches, matches from match points and everything. In a way, I was very determined to come out in the desert and really give it all I had. I think everything pays off a little bit at the moment: the practice, the preparation, how we structured things with my team.”
With his convincing 6-0, 6-2 dismissal of 11th seed Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals, Norrie, a former collegiate standout at TCU, assured that when the next rankings are published he will leapfrog countryman Daniel Evans as the new British No. 1.
“It was never really a goal of mine, but it’s definitely a great bonus to be the British No. 1,” said Norrie, who came into the tournament ranked a career-high No. 26. “I want to keep pushing. I think I’ve got a lot of things to improve on, but I think it’s one of those things you’ve got to enjoy. It’s nice to show some of the hard work from Facu [coach Facundo Lugones] and I that have been putting in over the last five years after college is showing, and it’s been a lot of fun. It’s one of those things — just a bonus.”
Rankings benchmark aside, Norrie, still seeking his first ATP title, will need to be at his best against Dimitrov in his first appearance in a Masters 1000 semifinal.