Grigor Dimitrov and his past as “Baby Federer”: “I learned that I just had to be myself”

Grigor Dimitrov
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Grigor Dimitrov is happy as a child inside a tennis court. He jumps and laughs after reaching the final of the Paris Bercy Masters 1000. He is at a new peak in his career.

He became well known as the talented young man who played exactly like Roger Federer: identical one-handed backhand, same motion on serve, impressively similar forehand technique, and incredibly look alike balletic style of movement. “Baby Fed”, they called him.

“To be honest, I appreciated the comparisons at first, but then I realized that the important thing was just to be me,” Grigor Dimitrov told CLAY, in one of the corridors of Arthur Ashe Stadium, while playing the US Open. He smiled when asked if his backhand is better than the Swiss. He prefers to give the responsibility of the choice to the journalists.

“Yes, we have similarities, but there is really nothing equal between the two of us, we are completely two different people and as the years have gone by, it’s something I’ve been aknowledge,” he added in New York.

In 2017, those comparisons with the 20-time Grand Slam champion began to stay behind: Grigor Dimitrov had a spectacular season with the Cincinnati Masters 1000 and the ATP Finals (London) titles. At the start of that season, he was very close to playing his first major final, but in Melbourne, Nadal beat him in the semis in an impressive match that was defined in the fifth set.

“I watched that match many, many times, in fact, the one I’ve watched the most times in my life, and I still don’t understand how I lost it. I didn’t do anything wrong in that match. It’s just that Nadal turns incredible matches, he does things that only magicians can do,” he said.

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The Bulgarian closed that year in third place in the ranking behind Rafael Nadal and Federer, and with his fast and beautiful tennis he looked like a player capable of taking one or two important crowns from the Big 4 in his years of tennis maturity, already with the shadow of Federer behind thanks to his own achievements. It didn’t happen, because Dimitrov couldn’t handle the pressure and suffered injuries. Until his biggest success in London, he hasn’t won any more tournaments.

However, at the age of 32 he found a new twist to his career. On the  2023 Asian tour he beat players who on paper should be in the finals instead of him, such as Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev, Holger Rune and, in the semis at Bercy, Stefanos Tsitsipas.

“I don’t want to feel sorry for myself for the last few years. I don’t want to feel like I’ve missed opportunities. Have I missed them? Yes, of course, too many.
Have I made mistakes? Yes, too many. Too many,” he commented at a press conference after beating the Greek: “There comes a point where it’s like, okay, I’m accepting everything that’s been thrown at me, what I’ve had to deal with, and I’m moving on. I have another opportunity. So when you get that chance, try to take it.”

Dimitrov will return this Sunday on the indoor courts of Paris to a big final, with Novak Djokovic on the other side of the net. With whom he lost eleven times and won only once, but with a renewed energy, wanting to feel again that taste that he has not tried for six years.

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ph: Corentin Cardon / @westcoo

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