U. S. Open 2011: Grigor Dimitrov and Roger Federer: Genius and Greatness

Posted: August 30, 2011 by rjsays in Tennis, U. S. Open
Tags: , , ,

Rajat Jain
Head of Tennis, The CouchExpert
30 August 2011

Grigor Dimitrov

Grigor Dimitrov


I will not blame somebody with a bird’s eye view who was watching the simultaneous matches of Roger Federer and his baby clone Grigor Dimitrov and confuse the latter with the former. The service motion, the fluid footwork, the one handed backhand, the powerful down the line punch and the hands at the net. They all look identical, including the Nike logo on their attire and sporting a single wrist band on their respective right hands. It is not difficult to envision how Dimitrov has clearly modeled himself like his idol (he was even coached by Federer’s former coach, Peter Lungdren).

However, today was the exact day where you would be taken back to your childhood days when you solved comic puzzles involving two nearly identical pictures placed side by side and you were asked to spot ten differences between the two pictures. The moment Dimitrov lost to Gael Monfils in three regulation sets, I switched my telecast to Arthur Ashe stadium where his idol was on the verge of winning the first set against Santiago Giraldo. Just fresh after being entertained by Dimitrov’s elegance and Monfils’ acrobatics, it was much easier and much more obvious to compare the difference between the fresh raw product and the extremely finished one.

—The most obvious difference was how Federer could stay in the rally for 10, 15, 20 shots and still manage to win the point. Dimitrov often threw up an error once the point went beyond six or seven shots.

—At one point, Dimitrov came forward of an approach, but Monfils hustled to put up a great lob. Dimitrov, going backwards, was visibly off balance and promptly spilled the overhead two feet beyond the baseline. On another such shot Federer was pushed back to the baseline as the ball soared in the air. Federer seemed to have more than enough time to see the side where his opponent was leaning,  added the precise amount of slice to the overhead, and hit it for a winner.

—Monfils, crowd pleaser that he is, tried a poor drop shot that stood up. Dimitrov judged it a split second late, but still reached on time. He hit a beautiful backhand down the line (which made me go “Awwwww Yes!”), but imparted more spin than needed which not only allowed Monfils enough time to react, but also to dispatch it past the Bulgarian. When Federer was presented with such an opportunity, he nicely got on top of the ball, and hit it flat past his hustling opponent for a clean winner.

—Monfils hit a serve striaght at Dimitrov’s backhand and approached the net in style. Dimitrov had enough time to dispatch a backhand down-the-line passing shot winner and make the Frenchman look stupid. Monfils applauded and tried to challenge in vain for a ball which clearly looked in. Turned out, it was not. It was a couple of inches out. When such an opportunity was given to Federer, he hit a similar down-the-line, but hit it short enough so that the ball landed on the service line. A great passing shot.

—I lost count of the number of instances where Federer non-chalantly returned a half volley from the baseline with enough depth. Dimitrov on the other hand invariably returned it short enough to allow the acrobatics of Monfils to come into play.

—When a return was short, Dimitrov was found struggling on what to do. Should he go forward enough to take a volley, allow the ball to bounce and hit a forehand winner, take a half volley, or just stay safe at the baseline? Almost always, he was found in the mid court at the mercy of Monfils. It was good to watch as Dimitrov had enough talent to take the ball from anywhere and return it back, but Monfils always had the advantage and mostly he ended up winning the point. When Federer approached the net, he knew exactly where to punch the ball. Even if it was returned back, Federer was there at the exact position to hit the next winner. No theatrics like Dimitrov were required and he rarely lost such a point.

Roger Federer

Roger Federer

—Federer saved break points with service winners. Dimitrov lost service games, twice, with double faults on break points.

If I was to select just one glaring difference between the two, it was the surity in their court positions, which was like north pole (Federer) and south pole (Dimitrov). Of course, it is unfair to compare an upcoming 20 year old with a veteran and probably the greatest player ever, it shows how subtle the differences are between a top three player and one ranked below 50. Dimitrov is still a raw product, but is beginning to ripe. Even during the end of the third set, he was showing committment by hustling and running around the court, sometimes a bit too much as he pulled a couple of hamstrings routinely, and hitting some great first serves in tricky positions. He needs consistent match play in order to convert his genius into greatness.

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