Dimitrov On His Renewed Perspective: 'This Is What I Was Meant To Do'
Last December, Grigor Dimitrov began to feel pain in his right shoulder. Then 27, he had never previously dealt with an injury before. After failing to retain his 2017 Nitto ATP Finals title — the Bulgarian did not qualify for the 2018 season finale — Dimitrov’s ATP Ranking fell to No. 19. And bad turned worse.
“There was no chance I could have continued more. The whole shoulder was completely inflamed. I couldn’t do much. For four weeks, I did not touch a racquet,” Dimitrov said. “I didn’t have surgery, which is the biggest upside. That kept me sane, to be honest, and gave me more excitement about it. That’s that. I’d never been injured and it happened for the first time in my life and I had to deal on the mental side as well. I struggled with that for a little bit.”
Dimitrov has hit some of the highest highs in tennis: claiming the title at The O2 less than two years ago to climb to a career-high World No. 3. He won an ATP Masters 1000 title at the 2017 Western & Southern Open, and has earned 23 Top 10 victories in his career.
But for about a month the Bulgarian was on the shelf, forced to learn what it’s like to not be able to compete, something that he enjoys doing.
“You can’t play, you can’t do your favourite exercise, you stay at home, you do like one hour of just completely basic exercise and it drives you crazy,” Dimitrov said. “I sat, I read, I went for a walk, I went for a run, I did this, I did that and I still had like half of the day to kill. For sure I worked on other things on the side, but it comes back to the grind. You miss that part a little bit...
“And obviously not having one injury throughout 28 years, I’m pretty happy about it and amazed that I was able to do that. But clearly when it happens you’re like, ‘Ooh! You can actually get injured at times, Grigor, so accept that in the future.’”
But since his return, Dimitrov has not been able to find the level that brought him near the very top of the sport. The World No. 78 entered the US Open having lost seven of eight tour-level matches, including a defeat against then-World No. 405 Kevin King in Atlanta.
“You just have to keep on going, I guess. There’s not much else to do. It sucks, for sure. I’m honest about it. Especially knowing what I’m capable of doing, also what I’ve done, of course that hurts your confidence to a certain extent. But I believe in the work that I’ve put in. I believe in myself, I believe in the whole team that is behind me,” Dimitrov said. “It’s all about the attitude. If I’m doing the right things, maybe it’s not going to happen now, maybe it’s not going to happen in a week or months or God knows, maybe next year. Maybe I won’t win one more match until the end of the year. But the best thing I can do is give myself a chance and be prepared 100 per cent and now I’m slowly starting to feel good about that.”
At Roland Garros, Dimitrov lost three tie-breaks against Stan Wawrinka. Then he fell in five tough sets against Corentin Moutet at Wimbledon. And most recently in Cincinnati, the Bulgarian lost in a final-set tie-break against Wawrinka. So it’s not that he has been getting dominated during this stretch.
“That’s the hardest thing, when you just fall short, it’s simple as that,” Dimitrov said. “I think this year there’s been a lot of those matches that I had an opportunity, I was there on so many occasions up a set, up two sets to love, set point, match point, I can’t even count it anymore.”
Off the court, Dimitrov hasn’t had as much difficulty dealing with his recent form. He loves going to the gym, exercising and eating healthy. That makes him happy. But on the court, it has been tougher for him mentally.
“Knowing that you haven’t played many matches certainly is not helping. Knowing that your shoulder might give up at some point is not helping. So I can say so many things that are on the negative end, but being away from the court really gives you a different perspective,” Dimitrov said. “This is what I was meant to do. I still enjoy it, I still love it. So whatever time it takes, I will keep on pushing for that. Plus I’m 28. It’s not like I’m 38 right now with an injury. That’s a great thing. I feel there’s a lot of upside now and I believe that I had good results in the past, but I know that I can do better and I want to do better.”
Dimitrov understands that his ATP Ranking has dropped, but he’s not worrying about goals right now. Instead, he is focussing on his health and continuing to push forward, even if he has endured some tough losses lately. And the eight-time ATP Tour titlist has only felt better and better.
“[That has happened] very recently, actually. It can still come back. It’s something that even a surgery won’t fix. Basically I had to destroy the whole shoulder and start building it again with the right exercise. I had to adjust my racquet as well. So there are so many small components that I had to go through that are in the background that nobody can see,” Dimitrov said. “But you know what, it was a process. I feel like everything is in a better not right now and working. I feel stronger than ever now in the shoulder now and hopefully that can continue to stay that way.”
At the US Open, Dimitrov will next face Borna Coric, the No. 12 seed, for the first time. The Croat is not treating the second-round match any differently than he would when Dimitrov had a ‘World No. 3’ next to his name.
“Definitely not. I know Grigor for many years. He’s a great guy and I know how well he can play,” Coric said. “I was watching him in the [Nitto] ATP Finals, I was watching him in Australia when he played the semis. He’s a guy who realistically is Top 10 always, sometimes top 5 when he plays very good. Obviously now he’s a little bit struggling, but that doesn’t mean anything.
“In tennis, in one match, anyone can beat anyone. I don’t look at the [ATP] Rankings, especially when I play against him. He’s at the top of the game…. Okay the past few months were not great, but he definitely can play very, very good tennis.”