On the Rise: Grigor Dimitrov Knocks on the Door of The Big Four

Grigor Dimitrov brings his talents to New York City in early March for the BNP Paribas Showdown, when he takes on Roger Federer in an exhibition match. The 23-year-old Bulgarian has made quite a name for himself in his short years on the ATP Tour and 2015 could be a breakout season for the rising star.
Photo credit: Calvin Rhoden
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Grigor Dimitrov brings his talents to New York City in early March for the BNP Paribas Showdown, when he takes on Roger Federer in an exhibition match. The 23-year-old Bulgarian has made quite a name for himself in his short years on the ATP Tour and 2015 could be a breakout season for the rising star.

Dimitrov has shown signs of improvement every year he has been on the Tour. His first ATP level match was at the Ordina Open where he lost to Igor Andreev in straight sets. In 2011, he cracked the top 100 and finished the season at number 75 in the world. At the end of 2012 he was in the top 50, and by the end of 2013 he found himself inside the top 25.

For six consecutive seasons, Dimitrov has improved on his ranking from the year before, and he enters March as the 10th ranked player in the world. The next step for the player referred to as “Baby Fed” is to win that maiden Grand Slam, something he hopes to accomplish in 2015.

In his visit to New York last summer, Dimitrov reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open. He makes the trip back to the Big Apple on March 10 when he takes on arguably the greatest player of all-time in Federer.

There is no question that Dimitrov is already an established talent on the ATP Tour and is on the brink of becoming a star in his own right, and it helped that he was able to shrug off the “Baby Fed” nickname.

“When I started to establish myself on the Tour, the Federer thing was starting to get a bit out of hand,” Dimitrov said in an interview with the BBC. “But I think now it is starting to fade away. I’ve proved over and over again that I’m a different person, a different player.”

Still just 24-years-old, Dimitrov has plenty of time to construct an identity of his own. Since being able to get past the “Baby Fed” mantra, the Bulgarian is now more commonly known to folks as the significant other of the WTA’s second-ranked Maria Sharapova.

Sharapova says each has helped the other improve since the two got together.

“It’s just obviously nice to have each other, and even though we have our respective careers and we train, to kind of have the other’s support is always nice,” Sharapova told The Age newspaper at the Australian Open in January. “I think that he’s grown so much in the few years that I’ve even been with him in terms of his focus and commitment to the sport. Obviously, I’ve always kind of watched his career grow from the junior days, and to be able to see him stride in the top direction really puts a smile on my face.”

Sharapova has established herself on the WTA Tour and is one of the most recognizable female athletes in the world. While Dimitrov is one of the most promising young talents out there, he needs to continue to make strides to reach the next level.

For years, the Big Four (Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray) have dominated the men’s circuit, but Dimitrov is the kind of talent that could help knock down that wall.

In 2014, two players—Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic—each won their first Grand Slam trophies. The next step in Dimitrov’s development is to win that elusive first major title. He has shown steady strides of improvement in each year of his career, but needs to validate his status by capturing a major.

It is never easy to live up to expectations and hype at such a young age, especially when your compared to a great like Federer.

“Learning to win—day in, day out, on days sunny as well as cloudy, cool as well as warm, and when the backhand is clicking as well as on those days when it’s on the fritz—is an important mission for any young player,” wrote ESPN Tennis Columnist Peter Bodo. “It’s doubly so for Dimitrov, a mercurial talent whose ball-striking prowess is matched by his flair and star quality.”

And that is the next step for the Bulgarian star; to be consistent on an everyday basis. Once he develops that, there is no doubt that Dimitrov can become one of the greats in the sport.