Paul Survives Dimitrov Comeback For Career-Best Slam Showing
The 22-year-old led 6-4, 7-6(6) but Dimitrov served for the match at 5-4 in the fifth and was two points away, at 30/0, from reaching his seventh third round in Melbourne.
But Paul, who was playing in only his second five-set match, won four consecutive points to break Dimitrov and advance 6-4, 7-6(8), 3-6, 6-7(3), 7-6(10-3).
"That was the biggest push in the match. I felt from dead to, I felt like I had energy," Paul said of when he broke for 5-5 in the fifth.
The American was struggling physically, at times hobbling to balls. But he opted to go for more on his forehand wing and ran away with the Match Tie-break against Dimitrov, who fell to 10-8 in five-set matches and has never come back from two sets down.
“I was hitting really big balls throughout the fourth and fifth sets. He moved so well and made me hit a lot of extra balls, so it was frustrating. But at the same time, I was hitting the balls pretty clean. So I had to hit really, really big and put them in the corners to hit winners,” Paul said.
“In the fourth set, I thought my hamstrings were going to go. So I was trying to do everything I could to save a little energy, like make the ball boy walk a little bit more to get the towel or anything."
The 6'1” right-hander beat Argentina's Leonardo Mayer in four sets on Tuesday as rain postponed play on Monday. It was his first win at a major championship.
Paul has been playing the best tennis of his career in the past 12 months. The American cracked the Top 100 in September and won three ATP Challenger Tour titles last year.
The 2015 Roland Garros boys junior champion is making good on the potential he showed years ago when he also reached No. 3 in the World junior rankings. “Picking up on what points in the match are real important. That's probably the biggest thing, and keeping a level head throughout the whole match. That's another big thing for me,” Paul said.
The American will next meet Hungary's Marton Fucsovics, who beat 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals champion Jannik Sinner 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 to reach the Australian Open round of 32 for the second time. Fucsovics reached the fourth round in Melbourne in 2018.
"It's been not easy today," said Sinner. "A lot of wind. He was playing better today. He deserved to win. There's not so much to talk about. I mean, he served better. The third set, I was trying to go a little bit more forward, trying to close on the net, which was working a little bit better. Then he broke me immediately, and then he played better the important points."