Novak Djokovic suffered a scare Thursday evening in the second round of the Australian Open. The Serbian’s movement was noticeably limited at points during the clash and his upper left leg was wrapped.
But the nine-time champion survived and advanced to the third round, where he will face Grigor Dimitrov at Melbourne Park. Will the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion be able to spring the upset?
The former World No. 3 knows he faces a tough task. Djokovic has won nine of their 10 ATP Head2Head meetings, with the Bulgarian’s lone victory coming in 2013.
“The mental aspect leans more to his side and he’s always been able to get me in tight moments, I’m not hiding this,” Dimitrov told ATPTour.com. “Good things can happen. I’ve been on Tour for so long. It’s the same thing for him, how many times has he been out there and he has to prove it to himself? It’s the same thing for me.
“Yes [they have] been tight matches. I have to prove something to myself. Now, it’s the same player, different match.”
Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Dimitrov has made magic in Melbourne before. In 2017, he advanced to his second Grand Slam semi-final and pushed Rafael Nadal to five sets in the last four. The 31-year-old owns at least one victory against each of Djokovic, Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, who have combined to lift 69 major trophies.
Although Djokovic is a nine-time champion at the season’s first Grand Slam, Dimitrov is not content to try to challenge the Serbian. He wants to win.
“I appreciate every time I get the chance to be out on the court. But I don’t want to just play those rounds. I believe that I can beat those guys again, I’ve done it before,” Dimitrov said. “I want to keep on battling. Everyone has their own battles and my battles are very different than somebody else’s out there. I think those matches I come to play.
“I haven’t played this kind of match in a long time, so that’s one of the downsides. Of course he’s the heavy favourite but I love those opportunities. That’s why you play tennis, to play on that stage against the best players. I won’t settle for less.”
There is no doubt that Dimitrov has the game to test anyone in the world. When at full flight, the 27th seed has an aggressive all-court game and creativity to flummox all opponents. The Bulgarian explained that the key is to bring his best.
“You know you’re capable of doing it but you don’t know the outcome or result,” Dimitrov said. “This is something I’m going to make sure I’m ready for and I’m absolutely going to do everything I can to get myself in that position. How the cards will unfold, we’ll see.”
Dimitrov plans to enjoy the moment, just like he has when taking in the city during his time in Melbourne.
“Been going to the beach a lot, long walks. The streets of Melbourne are so familiar to me, I’ve been here for like 14 years now,” Dimitrov said. “I have my little places that I go. It’s always a very nice start of the year here.”
The eight-time ATP Tour titlist has even been enjoying blackjack with his team for an hour before or after dinner. He hopes his winning ways on the tables will carry over to the court against Djokovic. But more important than the blackjack results has been staying fresh mentally by finding a balance of preparing for his matches and appreciating his time on Tour.
“I think it’s very important. The balance is important, too. With years, you are changing, you’re evolving and maturing. You’re starting to see things from a different angle,” Dimitrov said. “Personally, I’ve always tried to first do everything I have to do, whether it’s on the court, professional obligations, sponsor meetings, et cetera. This has always been my priority but also the little time you have off, I think is very important to just absorb that. You start listening to your body a little more.”
Dimitrov also added: “I always try to find that narrow balance. I always try to find the balance between being the best at what I do but also trying to be the best that I can outside of the sport, so I don’t go too far into being an athlete, but I also don’t go too far into being that person. I think that’s a very vital balance to find.”
Whether it is buying roses for his room at tournaments, exploring the local scenery or simply waking up early to watch the sunrise, Dimitrov appreciates the little things that have nothing to do with tennis.
“The craziest thing is it had nothing to do with my career. I found that in a completely different place, it had to do with my life outside the sport. Whether it’s family, friendships, those things made me see things from a different perspective,” Dimitrov said. “I’m entering a very nice age where I start enjoying it even more.
“I don’t know how much more I’ll play, I’ll for sure play as much as I can, but also I’m starting to appreciate every year more and more. I think that gives me a lot of energy. I feel just as excited now as when I came on Tour, that’s a good sign I think.”