Barely 12 months ago, a dejected Grigor Dimitrov sat in a small interview room at Roland Garros following a disappointing first round exit and spoke about his struggles, how he felt insecure on the court, and how it got “scary” sometimes.
He seemed lost, sad, and unsure about how to turn things around.
It is now a year later and Dimitrov is in a far better place. He’s ranked No12 – 24 spots higher than he was at the French Open in 2016 – has won two titles this season, in Brisbane and Sofia, and reached the Australian Open semi-finals in January.
The 25-year-old Bulgarian, who came through a tricky opener against Philipp Kohlschreiber in Madrid on Monday, and faces Ivo Karlovic in round two on Wednesday, has found the confidence that deserted him last year and is happy to leave that difficult chapter behind him.
“It’s been a great journey, I’m always the type of guy that appreciates the journey more than the final destination,” Dimitrov told Sport360° in the Spanish capital of his path over the last 12 months.
“Of course the year itself speaks for itself, so at the same time I don’t want to go back, I just want to own up to what I had to own up to, and face everything that was in front of me in those tough times.
“So yeah, that’s what it is right now. We have three more tournaments until the end of the clay court season, so hopefully that’s going to pay off good for me. I always wanted to play good on clay and have good results. I’m just going to keep up this form and stay focused.”
One of the changes Dimitrov made after a disappointing period last year, that included a bizarre six-match losing streak midseason, was parting ways with Franco Davin and hiring Dani Vallverdu as his coach.
Vallverdu, who used to be Andy Murray’s hitting partner and assistant coach and spent time working with Tomas Berdych, and very briefly with Juan Martin del Potro, seems to play a significant factor in Dimitrov’s surge this year.
Dimitrov admits that having a solid team around him has been key.
“There were a lot of things I had to accept. Change the way I was practicing, the whole team is set right now, everybody knows their spot, everybody knows what they have to do and that’s what they work for, to be me in the best possible position for me in order to go out there and give 100 per cent,” he explained.
“So far in the year, it’s been going great. I haven’t had any injuries, everything has been going well. I had the virus (recently) and all that, a little setback is needed sometimes in a way, I accept it and move forward…
He added: “I accept any obstacle that I have in front of me right now. And focus on each match, each point, each practice, each rehab, everything that is required of me. All my team is working behind the scene to put me in that position so that’s all I can ask for right now.”
At a charity event for children Grigor Dimitrov got down with the dancing!! 😀😍 pic.twitter.com/xlRkIYpQXQ— LaWanda (@lawanda50) April 29, 2017
Clay is not necessarily Dimitrov’s most successful surface – only one of his six titles has come on the red dirt – but his winning record on it (59.5%) is quite similar to his success rate on grass (59.6%) and hard courts (60.6%).
“I always have high expectations of myself. I didn’t start the clay season that well so I’m trying to lower my expectations a little bit so I can accept playing whoever I have to play. The first rounds here are already tough enough. You just got to look for those moments and do everything you can from your side, that’s the only thing I can ask for,” he said.
Dimitrov is 3-2 head-to-head against Karlovic, who saved four match points en route to a 7-6(4), 6-7(9), 7-6(7) win over Roberto Bautista Agut on Tuesday.