12:30 AM GMT November 20, 2017
Grigor Dimitrov knows as well as any, the problem with being a precocious prospect is the enormous weight of expectations from a young age. Wrapping up 2017 as the Nitto ATP Finals champion, he has made it abundantly clear he has landed.
For years, the gifted Bulgarian has garnered hype as one of the next big things. His results have provided hope, but it was not until 2017 that he solidified his intentions with a first tour title in 2 1/2 years in Brisbane, a title on home soil in Sofia, a maiden ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophy in Cincinnati and now the biggest title of his career at The O2.
Dimitrov started the year in a canter, falling in a high-quality five-set semi-final defeat to Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open semi-finals. But after a triumph over David Goffin in the Sofia final helped propel him to a 16-1 start in 2017, inconsistency began to plague the mid-part of his season, the type that had so often hamstrung his progress in previous years.
At 26, maturity, experience and dedication taught Dimitrov, though, he could turn things around if he put his mind to it. Qualifying for his first season finale was surely validation and a hint of what was potentially in store for 2018.
“I think I've had good results in the past, but now, as I said, I need to be even more consistent on those kind of events, and in the same time raise up my level on occasions like this,” Dimitrov said.
“Obviously, this is a great, unbelievable achievement for me, yes. But I still have a lot to give. I want to perform better and better.”
Win or lose the final against Goffin on Sunday, Dimitrov was assured of reaching a career-high of No. 3 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. A form and motivation slump had seen his ranking take a hit when he fell to as low as World No.40 in July last year.
“There I was thinking, ‘How can I put it together, put three balls in the court?’ But again, with the right state of mind, with the right people, with the right support, things happen,” Dimitrov said.
“For me, that period really helped me a lot. I think I needed that. And I appreciate those, six, seven months that were a complete struggle for me. I appreciate them in a way that only yourself, if you've been through that, you would understand that… Little by little, drop by drop, here I am.”
Victory over Goffin saw the Bulgarian finish his debut Nitto ATP Finals campaign undefeated, having seen off No. 4 seed Dominic Thiem, Goffin and Pablo Carreno Busta in the group stages.
After he let four match points slip against Jack Sock the last time they played this year in Indian Wells, Dimitrov was understandably nervous when he needed three match points to get the job done in their semi-final of the season finale on Saturday. In Sunday’s final, there would be no repeat of the 6-0, 6-2 thrashing he dealt Goffin in the group stage.
He knew the Belgian was going to change his tactics after the previous clash. This one would require patience.
“Well, I was a little bit tired, as well. I had to play a few matches obviously back-to-back against solid opponents,” Dimitrov said of his more conservative approach on Sunday. “I think throughout the whole week, I've been keeping a good level.
“I knew that David is going to try something new. He had to be aggressive so he doesn't let me play my game.
“Obviously a little nervous towards the end of the match, which is I think quite normal. But again, I'm over that hurdle. I'm very happy just to finish strong.”
It caps a career-best season for the Bulgarian and a potential prelude to what’s in store. For now, it’s a few days of complete rest until he admits he’ll probably have to go for a run: “I’m going to get so restless.”