Brain Game: For Biggest Title, Dimitrov Executes Best Game Plan
Fast feet and slow backhands.
That was the mercurial mix that engineered Grigor Dimitrov's maiden ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title over Nick Kyrgios at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati on Sunday. Dimitrov won 6-3, 7-5, saving both break points faced while winning a dominant 69 per cent (18/26) of second serves, which was far superior to Kyrgios’ 44 per cent (8/18).
Dimitrov showed exemplary footwork and speed on defence, many times sliding on the hard court well behind the baseline, miraculously putting one more ball back in play. It had a cumulative effect on Kyrgios, who had no answer for his quicker opponent when rally lengths reached double digits.
There were 16 rallies in the match that were at least 10 shots long, and Dimitrov amazingly won 15 of them. Kyrgios dominated the “first-strike” rallies, 38-34, when a maximum of only four shots were hit in the court.
But Dimitrov led 33-14 when a rally was extended to five shots or longer. That fifth ball in play was the line in the sand that clearly separated who was favoured to ultimately win the point.
It was one of those matches where there didn't seem to be a ball that Kyrgios could hit that Dimitrov couldn't run down.
Rally Length: Points Won
• 0-4 Shots: Kyrgios 38 / Dimitrov 34
• 5-9 Shots: Dimitrov 18 / Kyrgios 13
• 10+ Shots: Dimitrov 15 / Kyrgios 1
The main defensive weapon for Dimitrov was his slice backhand, which had the added benefit of giving Kyrgios less power for the Australian to use back at him.
When Dimitrov defeated Feliciano Lopez 7-6(5), 6-4 in his second-round match in Cincinnati, Dimitrov's average groundstroke speed was a quick 76 mph. But against Kyrgios, Dimitrov dropped it 10 mph on purpose, averaging just 66 mph, to Kyrgios’ 68 mph. Kyrgios simply had nothing to work with.
Kyrgios Groundstroke Errors
Once the point migrated past the explosive serve and return at the beginning of the point, Dimitrov was always looking to match up his forehand to the Australian's backhand. Kyrgios committed 12 backhand groundstroke errors for the match, with eight of them coming right after a probing Dimitrov forehand. Of the four backhands that followed a Dimitrov backhand, two were from a slice backhand, and two followed a topspin backhand.
Kyrgios also committed 12 forehand groundstroke errors, with eight preceded by a Dimitrov forehand, and four from a backhand. Interestingly, Kyrgios missed four low forehand approach shots, with three of them coming off a heavy slice backhand from Dimitrov that stayed low.
Overall, Kyrgios won only 5/9 (56 per cent) points at net, missing several more opportunities to come forward by not taking care of the approach shot.
Dimitrov's clever defensive game plan worked to perfection against Kyrgios. The Bulgarian shrunk the court with his blinding speed and made Kyrgios over play because he routinely had to hit the ball lower and slower out of strike zone. It was as smart a strategic match as Dimitrov has ever played.