Grigor Dimitrov comfortable being the player to beat at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
World No 4 is the top seed in Dubai and while he is favourite for the title, he is refusing to underestimate the rest of the field.
Given the women’s event was hit by a number of high-profile pullouts pre-tournament, Grigor Dimitrov’s declaration would have been music to organisers’ ears.
“Good, good, things are coming along,” said the Bulgarian, who was feeling the ill effects of a heavy cold when losing last Sunday’s Rotterdam final to Roger Federer. “I'm talking again with that [nasally] voice, a little bit of a cold here and there.
“It's what you have to go through. Whatever it is, it's behind me. No excuses. I'm going to play.”
And breathe. At world No 4, Dimitrov represents the highest-ranked player at this week’s ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. He concluded 2017 at a career-best third, after winning November's World Tour Finals, his greatest victory to date.
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There was last month’s runner-up finish in Brisbane, then the Federer final last week. Sandwiched in between, a quarter-final run at the Australian Open. Considered a future No 1, Dimitrov lands in Dubai as its solitary top-10 entrant.
All things considered, he is very much the man to beat. In the absence of the traditional “Big Five” - Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka have combined to capture the title the past nine years - come Saturday Dimitrov is widely expected to seal a ninth ATP Tour crown. That brings about its own challenges, though.
“Always those kind of draws are creating very big opportunities for everyone to do their best, to do better, to push themselves more,” the top seed said on Sunday. “With regard to the other players, anyone can come out and play unbelievable. Maybe it's their day. On any given day they can just produce different tennis.
“In a way also players have nothing to lose when they play against a higher seed. They're a bit looser, swinging a bit more freely. All these things add to the occasion. That's why you have to be ready. You should never underestimate an opponent.”
That therefore applies to his opening adversary. Dimitrov kicks off his trophy bid on Tuesday against Malek Jaziri, the Tunisian wildcard used to taking on the big guns in Dubai. His Aviation Club back catalogue includes jousts with Federer, Murray and Nadal.
“We've known each other for a really, really long time,” Dimitrov said. “We played a lot, even before we both got on tour. Absolutely, he plays well. I know he has good results out here. He likes the conditions here. He's been playing well. For sure I need to be ready.
“But, even the past weeks, one of the most important things for me has been to really focus on myself, to start to build up again. From each tournament, as soon as I enter it, is to be better with each match. This is what I did last week, the week before. I feel like this is the key for me that I really need to focus on.”
Thus, he is fully concentrated on the task at hand. Preparations began last week, with Dimitrov practicing every day since he touched down in Dubai on Wednesday night. Clearly, he is determined to make only his second appearance at the tournament, and first since his first-round defeat in 2011, a success.
“It's always nice to mix and match a little bit,” Dimitrov said. “I always like my routines - I played certain tournaments throughout all the years.
“There comes a time that it's good to improvise, to try something new. It's a big tournament. It's a 500 event. I need points. I need everything. I’m here to play, here to win.”
Updated: February 25, 2018 06:51 PM