Grigor Dimitrov’s stunning comeback to surprise Indian Wells top seed Daniil Medvedev on Wednesday was a reminder of the impressive heights the Bulgarian can attain.
The former world No.3 trailed Medvedev 6-4 4-1 before completing the unlikeliest of triumphs to advance to the quarterfinals in the Californian desert.
World No.2 Medvedev had recently won the US Open and was riding a nine-match winning streak. He had not lost to Dimitrov in four years, winning their past three encounters in straight sets.
And it had been five-and-a-half years since Dimitrov had beaten a player ranked in the top two.
“Winning that match meant something different to me. It doesn’t have anything to do with tennis, but I was just very happy that I was able to keep a good composure,” Dimitrov told Tennis Channel.
“It’s sport; you just don’t know what’s going to happen.
“Quite a few tournaments I had to pull out due to some little injuries, it really felt uncomfortable, and I couldn’t really practice well, I couldn’t do the things the way that I’m used to doing (them).
“I said to myself, OK, you’re back in California. You had a good stretch in San Diego. I’m out here, in the quarterfinals. So things are good. I’m not allowed to complain at the moment.”
Now aged 30 and ranked 28th, many observers would have assumed Dimitrov’s peak level was in the past.
In 2017, after reaching the Australian Open semifinals, he won his one and only ATP Masters title in Cincinnati and capped the season by triumphing at the ATP Finals.
He entered the 2018 season as the world No.3, and remained a top-five player until August that year. And even more recently, in 2019, he was a US Open semifinalist, ultimately stopped by Medvedev.
But the past two years did not deliver results resembling anything like that.
He contracted COVID-19 in 2020 which had a significant physical impact, while in 2021 back problems contributed to his losses at the Australian Open and Roland Garros.
A foot injury forced him to retire in the second round of of the US Open, by which point of the season his win-loss record stood at an underwhelming 15-14.
Grigor Dimitrov in slams this year— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) September 1, 2021
- Back spasm in Australian Open QF loss to Karatsev
- Retired in French Open R1 with a back injury vs Giron after holding triple MP
- Wimbledon R2 loss to Bublik
- Retired from US Open R2 vs Popyrin with a foot injury.
Tough, tough year.
But since arriving in California, his fortunes have changed.
A career-best Indian Wells quarterfinal run was preceded by a semifinal finish in San Diego, and he has won six of his past seven matches entering his clash with No.8 seed Hubert Hurkacz.
Medvedev declared that if Dimitrov could maintain the level he produced in his comeback on Wednesday, then he could win the whole tournament.
"Coming into California, and I'm going back to San Diego, it was a very particular way the way I was preparing before that,” Dimitrov revealed during his post-match press conference.
“I felt a lot of belief, and felt that I could do some damage out here.
"I felt like I've had so many chances (at Indian Wells) throughout the years, and I've lost very close matches, matches from match points and everything.
"I was very determined to come out in the desert and really give it all I had.”