Cooped up training through an icy Scandinavian winter for the past five weeks, Grigor Dimitrov admits he has surprised himself with his run to this week’s Brisbane International men’s singles decider.
It’s not the typical path most players take to prepare for a sweltering Australian summer campaign but under the watchful eye of a trio of former Swedish players, it has already paid dividends for the Bulgarian 21-year-old.
Today he meets top seed and defending champion Andy Murray for the title. It is his first tour final and in his typical light-hearted style, he in part attributes Queensland’s summer to his run to the decider.
“When I came here I saw the sun for the first time in six weeks,” he said. “I felt rejuvenated. I said ‘might as well stay an extra week, you know’.”
His path to the final started with a straight-sets dismissal of Brian Baker before upsets of second seed Milos Raonic and seventh seed Jurgen Melzer. His third-set tie-break triumph over Marcos Baghdatis yesterday was the first set he had conceded and steels him, should the final go down to the wire today.
Murray by contrast, faced his sternest test first up against 199th-ranked Australian qualifier John Millman and a parochial Brisbane crowd. He got through that one in three sets before reducing his matches with each round – a solid quarterfinal hit-out with big-serving Uzbek Denis Istomin ended in two sets before a semifinal against Japan’s Kei Nishikori came to an abrupt end in one and a half sets when the fifth seed retired hurt.
Nishikori’s mid-match withdrawal with a knee concern not only gave Murray an easier than expected passage into the final, but also handed Brazilian Marcelo Melo and Spaniard Tommy Robredo a free pass into today’s doubles decider when he was unable to take the court to team with Dimitrov. Melo and Robredo will take on top seeds Eric Butorac of the United States and Australian Paul Hanley for the doubles crown.
If anything the doubles walkover has allowed Dimitrov extra rest for what will be his second encounter with Murray. In 2011, the Scot beat a then-19-year-old Dimitrov in straight sets in Bangkok. It counts for nothing now.
“Grigor plays with a lot of variety … he can play a lot of shots. He’s one of the few guys coming through that’s got a single-handed backhand as well, so he uses a lot more slice than the others,” Murray said of his opponent. “You need to give them time physically. The game has changed a lot.”
Dimitrov is well aware what he needs to do to stand a chance against the often-brick-wall defence of Murray.
“I think I got to serve better than (against Baghdatis), that’s one thing. He’s a tough player overall. He doesn’t give balls away. I just basically … try to use every opportunity that he gives me, if there is one,” Dimitrov said.
He is determined not to let nerves constrict his free-flowing on-court flair as he looks to claim the biggest scalp of his fledgling career.
“I have nothing to lose tomorrow … I just want to go out there and compose myself and say, ‘OK, it’s your first final, don’t be nervous at least. You know, I think it’s going to be a good match.”
Murray though, recalled his first tour and provided a timely reminder – there’s a good chance the nerves will kick in.
“I played (Roger) Federer in my first final in Bangkok, so there is nerves, but also I went into that match with not much pressure because you’re not expected to win,” he said.
“He’s going to be incredibly pumped up. Everybody deals with certain situations differently.”