Grigor Dimitrov bounced back in style on Wednesday, overcoming nerves to find his best form in a 6-7(3), 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-3 victory over Croatian No. 11 seed Marin Cilic in four hours and 24 minutes at Roland Garros.
It may well be a hugely significant win for the Bulgarian, who has struggled for consistency since winning the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals crown that saw him rise to No. 3 in the ATP Rankings.
“Every win that I have now, I appreciate it,” admitted Dimitrov. “I don’t really think of who I’m playing against. I just want to have those wins… It was a very, very important match to me, without a doubt, though. Clearly I have struggled the past two, three months. The shoulder hasn’t been great. So a lot of moving parts. A lot of changes overall. I feel great, and I’m very, so to speak, focused and excited for what’s ahead.”
Dimitrov served an ace out wide to take the fourth set tie-break, then broke twice in the deciding set, prior to squandering two match points on serve at 5-2. Upon clinching his 11th win of the year, he pointed a finger to his head in celebration, staring at fellow Monte-Carlo resident (and his part-time coach) Radek Stepanek, as vindication of the work they have undertaken over the clay swing.
Since landing the biggest title of his career at The O2 in London in November 2017, Dimitrov has posted a 35-27 match record and fallen to World No. 46. On Monday evening, competing on the newest stadium court: Simonne-Mathieu, Dimitrov hit 60 winners – including 15 aces – and came out with two more points than Cilic, 179 to 177.
“I think there is a lot for me to take out of this match,” said Dimitrov. “I think this is the important part for me now. It was definitely one of the greatest matches I have played for a long time. A lot of credit to Marin. I have so much respect to Marin. He’s a tremendous fighter [and] never gives up.
“I think on both ends today we raised our game a little bit, sort of with each game that we played. Almost towards the end of the match, we served almost impeccably, to be honest. So that was something that already I take a lot of confidence from, and hopefully I can reproduce it for the match ahead. I think I’m going to definitely have a look at that match tomorrow. I’m really curious to see a couple of things and hopefully keep same way. Hopefully that was a turning point.”
He will next challenge Stan Wawrinka, the 2015 champion, who underwent two knee surgeries and has also fought his own battle for a return to form.
Cilic admitted, “He (Dimitrov) was playing really well. And I think what he served well when he was in the trouble. When I had some chances, he was coming up with some good shots and good serves. Generally, I think the level was very good. Unfortunately, I could not win it and feeling a little bit disappointed.”
Wawrinka was impressive in passing a potentially tricky second-round encounter against Chilean Cristian Garin 6-1, 6-4, 6-0 in one hour and 40 minutes. It was the 499th match win of his career and his 40th victory at Roland Garros (40-13 record).
The Swiss star admitted that it was one of the best matches he has played in recent months. “I know how well I can play,” said Wawrinka. “I’m happy with the way I have been playing today… I was really aggressive, moving much better than the first round.
“I like the conditions, I know how well I can play here. I know how well I have been practising and pushing myself to play a match like that. I’m happy with today, but this is just one match, so I just want to be ready for the next one… After the [knee] surgery it took me a little while to get back fit and ready to play like today.”
The 22-year-old Garin, who has contested 27 of his 28 tour-level matches on clay-courts this year, lifted two ATP Tour titles in Houston (d. Ruud) and in Munich (d. Berrettini).