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Grigor Dimitrov Thwarts Thiem at World Tour Finals

Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria celebrates after defeating Dominic Thiem of Austria in their round robin match of the ATP World Tour Finals in London, Britain, 13 November 2017. EPA-EFE/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA

 

 

By Richard Pagliaro

 

LONDON—Grigor Dimitrov stared at the baseline like a man contemplating how to balance on a tight rope.

 

Straddling aggression and apprehension, Dimitrov edged Dominic Thiem, 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, in a fierce and fitful World Tour Finals fight that featured three service breaks in the last six games.

 

Day two of the World Tour Finals brought high drama to the O2.

 

In today’s opening match, 39-year-old twins Mike and Bob Bryan scraped out a 7-5, 6-7 (3), 10-8 victory over fourth seeds Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares in a doubles victory featuring three players—the Bryan brothers and Murray—using Solinco strings.

 

The sixth-seeded Dimitrov served for the match at 5-4, was broken then broke right back before finally closing on his third match point.

 

It was the third meeting between the pair this season with all three matches going the three-set distance.

 

Dominic Thiem of Austria in action against Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria during their round robin match of the ATP World Tour Finals in London, Britain, 13 November 2017. EPA-EFE/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA

Thiem took the court with a 24-24 career record indoors. It’s the only environment where the Austrian’s record isn’t above .500.

 

Two primary reasons: Thiem needs time to unleash his sweeping backswings and consequently has a habit of moving backward to return second serve.

 

Dimitrov’s transition skills and ability to close at net were key today: He won 19 of 24 trips to net, including a tremendous running forehand down the line before scampering to the other side of the court for a drop shot winner.

 

The first Bulgarian to qualify for the elite eight in the tournament’s 48-year-history blocked a backhand return converting his third break point for a 4-2 lead.

 

Bending a 109 mph ace out wide brought the Bulgarian triple set point.

 

Thiem whacked a wild return beyond the baseline as Dimitrov snatched a one-set lead after 38 minutes while his supporters seated high up in the corner of the court serenaded him with a chant of “Dimitrov! Dimitrov!”

 

Adopting more aggressive court positioning, Dimitrov hit nine winners compared to five for his opponent in the opening set.

 

An hour into the match, Dimitrov’s serving accuracy was dipping and his backhand was failing. Targeting the Bulgarian’s backhand, Thiem drew 10 errors from that wing in the second set.

 

Feeling scoreboard pressure, Dimitrov rattled successive errors to face triple set point. The sixth seed scattered a forehand down the line wide as Thiem broke at love leveling the match after 88 minutes.

 

Missing the sideline by a couple of inches with an inside-out forehand put Thiem in another break-point bind.

 

Swooping forward behind a backhand down the line, Dimitrov bent low ladling a backhand drop volley with such backspin you could read the label on the dipping ball.

 

That bit of brilliance carved out the break and a 4-3 lead sending coach Dani Vallverdu leaping from his seat, pointing an index finger to his temple, Stan Wawrinka-style.

 

Serving for the match, Dimitrov descended into distress. Thiem broke on an errant backhand for 5-all as Kiki Mladenovic screamed in support from the Austrian’s box.

 

The world No. 4 wasted that good work with a twitchy service game of his own at exactly the wrong time. Thiem doubled faulted to face triple break point then spit up a second straight double fault—his sixth of the match—to hand back the break and a 6-5 lead.

 

Nerves spiked again as Dimitrov double faulted on his first match point then missed a forehand down the line on the second match point. Thiem netted a forehand and nearly gnawed at his strings at a third match point.

 

Thiem sailed a final shot beyond the baseline ending a two hour, 21 minute duel that popped with high drama and high strung moments.

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