If recent events at the Western & Southern Open are anything to go by, it seems that the ATP’s ‘lost generation’ (those players born from ’89 to ’91) has at long last found its leader. It is a man who initially dazzled us during the Summer of 2014, only to experience wildly gyrating fortunes in 2015 and 2016. This before a stunning recovery at the beginning of the 2017 season, which he began by scoring 14 victories to 1 devastating loss in the Australian Open semis. He looked like a world beater back then, and by Jove he looks like one now. Considering what this article is entitled, the identity of the player in question should immediately be obvious to you: it can be no one else but Grigor Dimitrov.
In Cincinnati last week, Dimitrov’s was some of the most coruscating tennis played all year by anyone not named Roger Federer. He did a fine job of filling the void left by the Swiss’ injury-provoked absence, playing five flawless matches en route to winning his first Masters 1000 title. The crescendo of Dimitrov’s triumph occurred in the final against Nick Kyrgios, but the groundwork was laid out well in advance. In the previous rounds, he took out Feli Lopez, Del Potro, Sugita and Isner with the type of efficiency that substantiates his reputation as Federer’s heir apparent.
Not to put a dampener on things, but it has to be pointed out that Dimitrov’s romp in Cincinnati rescued what threatened to be a rather unremarkable August. He exited the Canadian and Citi Opens in the second-round stage, his defeats coming to much lesser players who he should be handling comfortably. Although he managed to gloss over his losses to Daniil Medvedev in D.C. and Robin Haase in Montreal by winning the biggest title of his career thus far, Dimitrov is not totally out of the woods yet.
To borrow a metaphor from nature, Dimitrov became something akin to a caterpillar in Chrysalis after he won the Cincinnati Masters. If he is to complete the metamorphosis from a caterpillar (read: very good player) into a butterfly (major champion), then Dimitrov has got to replicate the kind of form that he produced Down Under in January and make this year’s US Open the slam that changes his career. ‘Good enough’ is not good enough anymore. The world No.9 must ascend to the top of a field that is literally getting weaker by the week.
The composition of the top 10 is in a constant state of flux and many of its older members have picked up injuries that will force them to miss months of action at a time. Hence, the time is ripe for someone to assert himself as the apex predator; the player against whom all others know they must play a near-perfect match to have any chance of beating him. Could Dimitrov be that guy? Possibly, though the jury is still out on whether his talent ceiling is that high. At the very least, Dimitrov proved to the world in August that the Chrysalis phase of his career may be nearing its end. And soon, it might be his turn to blossom into a butterfly.