While the tennis world is anticipating a likely final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer at the US Open, there is one dark horse going very quietly about his business.
Despite having never previously won a match at Flushing Meadows, Grigor Dimitrov has seemed unperturbed on his journey towards the second week, and on current form he should expect no less than a run to the quarter-finals.
The 23-year-old is yet to drop a set in New York after two convincing three set wins over American Ryan Harrison and Israel’s Dudi Sela (in a match where he dropped just five games), and at the time of writing, he is due to face Belgian David Goffin in the third round on Sunday.
A successful year
It is every sign of how far the world number eight has progressed this year that the Bulgarian has ended his run of three consecutive defeats at the last Grand Slam of the year, but his expectations have changed since then.
Despite not being able to advance to the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam before the start of 2014, runs to the last eight at the Australian Open and the last four at Wimbledon have increased his stature among the top players, and his world ranking has increased by a staggering 59 positions from 67th at the start of the year.
Three of his four ATP singles titles have been secured in 2014, in Acapulco, Bucharest and at the Queen’s Club in London, as he has built experience of winning on more definitive occasions.
There is an air of ruthless efficiency about his game that is reminiscent of 14-time Grand Slam winner Pete Sampras, particularly when serving, and he is more than able to match the seven players ranked above him on power alone.
With world number two Rafael Nadal being forced to miss this year’s tournament with a wrist injury, an exciting opportunity has opened up for the seventh seed, should he be able to come through a likely match-up against Federer in the quarter-finals.
When it comes to his chances of winning the tournament, it is likely that his lack of experience at the top level would work against him against the top two seeds Djokovic and Federer, but it is certainly a possibility.
Confidence and momentum can play a crucial role, particularly when a player is searching for their first Grand Slam, as showed when world number four Stanislas Wawrinka caused a shock by winning the Australian Open this year, beating Djokovic and Nadal to win his first major.
He showed in his run to the last four at Wimbledon that he is not intimidated in a best of five set match against a Grand Slam winner, as his serving and clinical baseline winners in his quarter-final win over then defending champion Andy Murray were born out of nerves of steel on the big occasion.
Djokovic was certainly given a test when they met in that semi-final, as the Serbian edged his opponent on the third and fourth set tie-breaks in a four set victory, and there were no signs of nerves in what is so far the most important match he has played in.
Going into his meeting with Goffin, which will be played in the night session on Arthur Ashe Stadium, there will be an air of the unknown, as it will be the first time the two players have faced each other on the ATP tour.
But the world number 56 should not pose too much of a threat, as he has not followed up on an impressive run to the fourth round of the French Open in 2012, and victory would see Dimitrov face the winner of an all-French battle between Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet.
Either of those players would be likely to force an exciting battle, with their stylish brands of tennis posing a contrast to Dimitrov’s power and brutality, but if he were to make it through to the last eight, who knows where that momentum could take him?
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