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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 17 August 2018

Time for Grigor Dimitrov to deliver on his promise

The Bulgarian world No 3 faces Britain's Kyle Edmund for a place in the Australian Open semi-finals

Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria celebrates winning in his fourth round match against Nick Kyrgios of Australia on day seven of the 2018 Australian Open at Melbourne Park. Michael Dodge / Getty Images
Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria celebrates winning in his fourth round match against Nick Kyrgios of Australia on day seven of the 2018 Australian Open at Melbourne Park. Michael Dodge / Getty Images

There have been many false dawns in the career of Grigor Dimitrov, too many times he has looked on the cusp of a major breakthrough only to fail to take the final step. Ever since the talented Bulgarian hammered Andy Murray, the defending Wimbledon champion, at the All England Club in 2014, the tennis world has held its collective breath. After all, anyone who earns the nickname "Baby Fed", because of the similarities in his game to 19-time grand slam champion Roger Federer, has to be pretty special, right?

An impressive junior career promised much, but here we are in January 2018 with the Bulgarian, age 26, and he has yet to reach a grand slam final, let alone win one.

There is no doubt that Dimitrov has the talent. The one-handed backhand that has drawn comparisons to Federer, the 19-time major winner, is a sight to behold, and his all-round game holds up against anyone elses on the ATP Tour.

But like so many starlets of the men's game he has yet to really have a defining run at a grand slam.

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This could be the week that finally changes that. Ranked third in the world, playing well, a quarter-final against Britain's Kyle Edmund, a match he is a heavy favourite to win, at the Australian Open. The signs are looking good.

There have been flashes of promise throughout Dimitrov's career, but they have so far proved no more than that.

His hammering of Murray at Wimbledon in 2014, in the quarter-finals, should have been the launchpad for Dimitrov to go on and consistently challenge in the championship matches at the majors.

The 6-1, 7-6, 6-2 victory over a player who has been among the best grass-court players in recent years was terrific to watch, and he did go on to push eventual champion Novak Djokovic hard in the semi-finals before losing in four sets.

But it proved another false dawn as he had to wait until last year's Australian Open to reach another semi-final again. Dimitrov has struggled for consistency, and too often lost to opponents that, given his talent, he should be beating with few problems.

Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria reacts during his fourth round match against Nick Kyrgios of Australia at the Australian Open. Mark Cristino / EPA
Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria reacts during his fourth round match against Nick Kyrgios of Australia at the Australian Open. Mark Cristino / EPA

He was terrific in a losing effort to Rafael Nadal in the last four in Melbourne 12 months ago, going down in five sets, and it could be the Spaniard, now world No 1, who he meets again in the semi-finals on Thursday, should Edmund be overcome.

For the first time in his career Dimitrov has sustained momentum behind him that could carry him to his first grand slam final.

As a whole 2017 was a year where Dimitrov found the consistency his game had been lacking.

He won his first Masters title in Cincinnati in August and won the ATP World Tour finals in November, achievements that have propelled him to No 3 in the world.

He beat Edmund already this month in Brisbane in three sets. While the Briton has impressed in his best run at a grand slam it would be a big surprise if it is his name in the last four.

Either Nadal or 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic await Dimitrov in the semis, and there are reasons for Dimitrov to be positive about facing either of them.

There are still doubts over Nadal's form, given his wobbles in beating Diego Schwartzman in the fourth round on Sunday, and also about his endurance; this is the Spaniard's first tournament, other than a defeat in the Kooyong Classic exhibition, since a knee problem ended his 2017 campaign last November.

Rafael Nadal has reached the Australian Open final three times and won once. Dean Lewins / EPA
Rafael Nadal has reached the Australian Open final three times and won once. Dean Lewins / EPA

Sixth seed Cilic is a consistent performer with a big serve. But as he demonstrated in defeating home favourite Nick Kyrgios on Sunday, Dimitrov has the temperament and concentration to prevail in a tight encounter that would likely feature a tie-breaker or two.

There is a lot of work still to be done but this is unquestionably as good a chance as Dimitrov has had to finally reach the final of a major.

It is now up to him to prove that he is the real deal, and the hype that stretches back almost 10 years to him winning the junior title at Wimbledon in July 2008 was not misplaced.

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