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Grigor Dimitrov: Pairing game with gratitude

  • Vivienne Christie

This feature has been adapted from Australian Tennis Magazine's April-May 2024 edition. The special “life lessons”-themed issue also includes features on Alex de Minaur, Marta Kostyuk, Victoria Azarenka and some of the wisest young stars in the sport. Visit the online shop to preview and order your copy. 


Amid the many demands of his professional playing life, Grigor Dimitrov has a ritual he likes to complete. At the end of the day, he often lists three things that provide him with gratitude – and there’s been much of that lately for the most successful Bulgarian player in history. 

“It helps me a lot with so many different things,” Dimitrov told Australian Tennis Magazine of his considered process. 

“I think at the stage where I’m at in my career, I think with each year that has gone by I’m more appreciative of anything that I get not only to do (on court) but (also) in life.”

It’s an outlook that’s provided a perfect complement to the stylish all-court tennis that’s delivered Dimitrov nine ATP singles titles and more than USD $26 million prize money in 16-plus seasons. Having peaked at world No.3 in 2017, he has surged back into the top 10 in a glorious late-career revival. 

Following a first ATP final since 2018 at Geneva last May, the 32-year-old progressed to the second week of Roland Garros and Wimbledon. He stunned world No.2 Carlos Alcaraz on his way to the Shanghai Masters semifinals and with upset wins over Daniil Medvedev, Hubert Hurkacz and Stefanos Tsitsipas, finished runner-up to Novak Djokovic at the Paris Masters. 

“I was thrilled with the way I was playing throughout the whole tournament. A lot of good wins, a lot of positive wins,” said Dimitrov, who capped 2023 at world No.14, his highest year-end ranking in six years. “I need to stay positive and keep on believing that things will come out for me.”

Those highs came quickly as Dimitrov launched his 2024 season with a return to the winner’s circle at the Brisbane International, where a final victory over No.1 seed Holger Rune delivered his first ATP title since 2017.  

Brisbane International 2024 champion Grigor Dimitrov (R) receives his trophy from Australian legend Pat Rafter, after whom the tournament's centre court is named. [Getty Images]

He also lifted the trophy in the Queensland capital seven years earlier. “I want to say I’m a better player now,” beamed Dimitrov. 

Dimitrov has since contested his 19th and 20th career finals in Rotterdam (where Ugo Humbert was crowned champion) and Miami – his third at Masters 1000 level – where he succumbed to man of the moment Jannik Sinner

RELATED: Coaches reveal balance behind Sinner's hot streak

His Miami run included successive wins over top-10 stars Hurkacz, Alcaraz and Alexander Zverev and guaranteed a return to the top 10 for the first time since 2018.

“The discipline, the hard work, you know, all the dedication, the adjustment to very different players throughout that time, I mean, you need to be able to do that on a constant basis,” he said. “That's been happening for the past eight, nine, 12 months. It's been difficult. I had very, very difficult matches that I have lost … but I kept on believing.”

A key change in Dimitrov’s coaching team has helped fuel his resurgence. After splitting with Dante Bottini late in 2022, he employed the highly regarded Jamie Delgado and also reunited with former coach Daniel Vallverdu. 

Delgado, who’d previously guided Andy Murray, encouraged the Bulgarian to add muscle mass and deploy bolder shot-making. Vallverdu advised Dimitrov to focus on his strengths – his big serve and silky groundstrokes. “Over the past few years, maybe he wasn’t as clear on what his game plan should be,” Vallverdu said. 

From his spectacular early steps in the sport – including two junior majors – to his top-10 return at age 32, Dimitrov admits experience has at times been a painful teacher.  

“There’s a part of you that just forgets to learn life,” the Bulgarian said. “I almost felt at times things were hand-in-hand and I just really wanted to re-introduce myself to me. That was part of my growth and part of why longevity became one of the things for me.”

Grigor Dimitrov addresses the crowd after reaching the 2024 Miami Open final, his third appearance in an ATP Masters 1000 final after Cincinnati in 2017 and Paris in 2023. [Getty Images]

A thoughtful Dimitrov is now thankful for the balance he’s achieved on tour. “I would say also (that) tennis uses the same language as life … it teaches you. Discipline is freedom. Whether you play a match or not … a lot of the things that I do now, I have as a lifestyle,” said Dimitrov, who prioritises fitness, healthy eating and mental health. “There’s just so many things that are linked and I don’t take them for granted at all.”

Other lessons for the popular competitor are specific to his craft. After a comeback victory over Murray in his opening match at Brisbane, he admitted he’d at times been too respectful of big-name opponents early in his career.

“That was not serving me well when I had to compete against them and I think I had to learn that with time a little bit more,” said Dimitrov, who has nevertheless recorded wins over Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. 

“I remember thinking ‘Okay, I need to learn how to separate those things and put them in a different compartment’.”

Dimitrov has crossed multiple eras of the sport. While early opponents in his career included Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt, he now enjoys competing against Alcaraz, Sinner and other emerging stars. 

“It’s very interesting for me to see in a way three eras that I’ve played with, and even players from way before that towards the end of their career,” he said. “I’m in a unique position, and very fortunate position, to be able to compete with each one of them.” 

Dimitrov, who supports several foundations and initiatives that mostly benefit children and is a long-time member of the ATP Player Advisory Council, has no qualms about applying his perspective to younger competitors. 

“I’m very open. I’m honest. If they need advice, I’m always there to answer the best as I can,” he said. “I think one of my most important things is always go at it, give a 100 per cent and you never know how the cards will unfold, but at least when you look back, you’ll be so proud of yourself.”

For now, Dimitrov is simply delighted to stay in the moment.  

“One thing I’ve learned not only in the sport that I do but even outside, is (that) we have only that moment in front of us,” he said. 

“I mean, I’ve been top 10 before. I was No.3. It was all great, don’t get me wrong … but for me, I have a different quest, I have different battles to fight right now. All I know is I’m conquering them one step at a time.

“At the end of the day, things will come in the right direction.”