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Grigor Dimitrov Edges A Cramped Jared Donaldson For 50th Slam Win In Paris

A general view during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 2018. EPA-EFE/YOAN VALAT

 

 

By Richard Pagliario

 

Suffering is a prerequisite for Roland Garros success, says reigning champion Rafael Nadal.

 

Grigor Dimitrov tasted the pain, embraced the challenge and kissed his knees in celebration of his 50th career Grand Slam win in a second-round Roland Garros epic.

 

A gutsy Dimitrov edged a gallant Jared Donaldson, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 10-8 in a pulsating and punishing four-hour, 19-minute thriller.

 

Dimitrov delivered 67 winners, including 17 aces, raising his Grand Slam record to 50-30 and his five-set record to 7-6.

 

The fourth-seeded Bulgarian was two points from elimination serving at 5-6 in the decider.

 

A defiant Dimitrov dug in and denied the threat. Then Dimitrov drew on his stamina, shot-making and some timely drop shots to subdue a cramping and drained Donaldson.

 

Dimitrov kissed both knees when it ended in a dual tribute to his trainer and fitness.

 

“Me and my fitness guy, we always have a little special routines when we come to practice on clay that win was definitely for him,” Dimitrov told Tennis Channel’s Jon Wertheim afterward. “He’s been with me through ups and downs. That match meant a lot for him; we’ve done so much work.

 

“I kissed (my knees) because the legs still felt very fresh and if I had to go another two hours I could have done that. So that was the main message. A win is a win. All I wanted to hear was game, set, match, have a day to rest and hopefully I’m gonna be better for the next one.”

 

Winless in seven prior meetings vs. Top 10 players, Donaldson played aggressive baseline tennis at times dictating play against the Nitto ATP Finals champion.

 

Court positioning was key.

 

Donaldson often straddled the baseline and took the ball earlier than the Bulgarian. Rushing Dimitrov into a sprayed shot, Donaldson broke in the 10th game for a two sets-to-one lead.

 

Knowing he needed to find his forehand, Dimitrov displayed quicker footwork running around his backhand to fire his forehand with damaging effect. Driving the ball deep, Dimitrov drew successive forehand errors breaking for 2-1.

 

A group of young fans broke out a sing-song chant of “Dimitrov! Dimitrov!” punctuated with rhythmic clapping. Dimitrov heard the urges and answered rocketing a serve winner down the middle to back up the break in the fourth game.

 

After Donaldson worked through a tricky hold for 3-4, he requested the trainer for treatment to an apparent left leg issue then went back to work.

 

Dimitrov dotted the sideline with his 10th ace forcing a fifth set after three hours, 13 minutes of play.

 

Punishment from his marathon opening-round win, combined with the physicality of this match, left a hobbled Donaldson standing during late changeovers and even resorting to the underhand serve—twice in the final set.

 

Probing the short angle area where service line meets sideline, Donaldson sent Dimitrov off the doubles alley in pursuit of his twisting crosscourt forehands. The American pulled off a super-slick backhand half-volley that helped him hold for 2-1 with a glance toward coach Jan-Michael Gambill.

 

Serving to extend the match at 5-6, Dimitrov was flat-footed as Donaldson dropped a side-spinning drop shot then drilled a drive down the line for love-30.

 

Two points from defeat, Dimitrov darted an ace then jolted a low forehand over the high part of the net. Sliding a serve off the line, Dimitrov deadlocked the decider after 12 games.

 

Looking a little staggered, Donaldson channeled Michael Chang successfully dropping the underhanded serve as Dimitrov, who had retreated back near the wall to return, couldn’t catch up to it.

 

Donaldson held for 7-6 then consulted the trainer again for apparent right leg cramps.

 

Two games later, the world No. 57th set a weary, wild forehand wide and exhaled audibly as Dimitrov broke at love for 8-7. A physio massaged Donaldson’s right leg in the ensuing changeover. Just when it looked like Donaldson was done he earned double break point and bolted a backhand breaking back for 8-8.

 

That plot twist was a prelude to a third straight break.

 

A depleted Donaldson couldn’t push off his right leg on serve, spitting up a double fault then going to the underhand serve again. This time Dimitrov was on it as he broke again for 9-8.

 

Sliding an ace wide for triple match point, Dimitrov closed a tremendous fight in four hours, 19 minutes with a stinging serve kissing his knees and pumping his clenched fists.

 

“I’m feeling good right now to be honest after playing four hours,” Dimitrov said. “It was a great battle. He definitely knew what he wanted to do today. I was not surprised…

 

“I never played him, but I know how he plays a little bit. To keep up that game on clay for an amount of time I knew it was gonna be harder for him.”

 

Standing between Dimitrov and his first French Open fourth round appearance is Spanish left-hander Fernando Verdasco.

 

The No. 30-seeded Verdasco swept Guido Andreozzi, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, surging into the third round in Paris for the 10th time.

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