25-year-old Grigor Dimitrov is a passionate individual and lives a rich, rewarding life outside of tennis. With age, though, he believes that he is maturing into a proficient worker and more focused athlete. He’s confident that he can win majors and get to No.1 if he takes the right steps.
Back in the top 20 after a productive stretch with new coach Dani Vallverdu, Tennis TV’s Chris Oddo caught up with the upbeat Bulgarian last week to talk about many topics, including his admiration for Rafael Nadal, surrendering to tennis and where he wants to be this time next year.
Tennis TV: On your relationship with Dani Vallverdu, you mentioned there’s a closeness and a comfort there. I’m wondering—is this the best you’ve felt with a specific coach in a long time?
Grigor Dimitrov: Yeah, I think it’s very important to find that balance between a player and a coach. I think we kind of started from one day to the next, it was a pretty rapid move for both of us, considering I still had my coaches at the time and he was doing some tryouts with other players. I think as a player I just feel that we kind of molded into each other’s lives pretty well and we found our rhythm pretty much right away.
But as I said there’s still a lot to get to know about each other. To work and to find even a better balance and start winning even bigger matches and of course bigger tournaments.
TTV: You are certainly off to a good start with him. What would you say specifically it is about Dani that you like?
GD: He’s one of those guys that likes to work. He’s work ethic is absolutely outstanding. Even after tough matches we’ve been going on the court to keep on working on things that we could have done better during tournaments. Just little details like that in the long term make a bigger difference. I think it really, really helps, especially nowadays against the players that I have to face, to know that I have extra balls on them, extra practice time and all that. In the long-term hopefully things can even get better for us.
TTV: Your ranking has improved so much just in the last three months. Where would you like to be this time next year?
GD: This time next year hopefully I can be aiming at London. It’s been a dream of mine to get there, to the World Tour Finals. A couple of years ago I missed it by one spot so for sure I was sad about that and I always wanted to be able to play there and be part of it because I feel I deserve it. You know, like ‘why not me?’ So I think it’s pretty much the most important goal for me. But again, if we stay healthy and do the right work then everything can happen.
TTV: Is there a feeling between you and your coach that there’s a window right now? You’re 25 and you look at the Big Four – Rafa and Roger have pulled the plug on the season; Novak and Andy will be 30 by this time next year – it’s not that they’re done by any means, but do you feel like the time is now for you to seize on an opportunity?
GD: I think regardless, the time is always now. In the sense of you have to beat those types of players to get anywhere you want to go, basically. I don’t want to say ‘Okay here’s the crack, let’s sneak in it and make this gap bigger.’
At the same time I’ve been winning quite a few close matches, beating good players, first time I’ve beaten players that I’ve never beaten, so that’s a step for me. Everyone’s got a different path so you never know, we see a few loose matches from Roger or Novak or players like that, but at the same time it’s not like they’ve been playing bad the whole year. It’s just been a couple of tournaments. It’s kind of a mental game so in the end you just look at yourself and go on with the things that you have to do. I think the best thing you can do is look yourself in the mirror and say okay I’ve given myself the best chance possible. So, I think that’s what is valuable to me right now.
TTV: In Beijing when you defeated Rafa for the first time you had some amazing words for him that really pumped up the fans because they were thrilled to hear how inspired you were by Nadal and how much that meant to you. Besides Rafa, are there other players out there that also inspire you?
GD: I think there are a lot of players I can use for inspiration. Obviously Andy, for example, has been playing tremendous tennis lately and I think the older he gets the better he gets. Of course Novak, I can say a lot about him, but the reason I’m saying Rafa is because I feel I can actually relate to him a little bit.
The way he is I think on the court and I think a little bit where he comes from and his fighting spirit, so that’s why I say that Rafa is an inspiration. I think he’s one of the greatest fighters in my eyes. And again, you know everyone has a different inspiration. And to that extent for what I’m doing right now, I have so many other interests in life, besides tennis, so for sure I can say that I have other things that inspire me, but when it comes to tennis, and mental toughness and work ethic and all that, Rafa is one of the workhorses that is just unbelievable. You can send him to war any time, any day, so that’s pretty amazing.
TTV: You’ve always seemed to live a passionate life outside of tennis, you embrace the arts, the fashion, the culture, the experience of just being a person in the world. How important is it for you as a person to be that type of well-rounded person and have that type of life away from the game?
GD: I think tennis gave me everything in life. Everything. The contacts, the people, the life that I wanted, the life that I imagined, and I still feel every year that I’m playing, every year that I’m fortunate enough to play on the tour I always feel like, wow, there’s just more to it. I keep going and I keep finding something new each year, which makes me super-happy and makes life easier. It’s not easy travelling like 22-24 weeks a year, non-stop doing the same things. The rehab, the stretching, the taping the stringing, the opponents.
You have to fight through this every single day so I think it’s nice to have a bit of a window where you can be like ‘Okay I need to open that window to breathe a little bit,’ because at the end of the day tennis isn’t everything in life. It’s a period of life that you experience. After that something else begins. It’s like a chapter. In my life, tennis has given me everything so that’s what I’m trying to embrace also – everything that comes along with it.
But, of course, with each year I’m feeling that I’m getting a bit more mature and that I’m getting more comfortable in tennis, and I’m starting to realise what’s really, really important and now I know when I should have the rest and whether I should or shouldn’t go to this fashion show, so I appreciate tennis way more nowadays, and I’m enjoying every single part of it. Of course, when you’re young you also do some mistakes, you pay for it at some point and you try to just move on and put everything else behind you.
TTV: You recently said you had to surrender yourself back to tennis again. This was also in Beijing. You also admitted that you had some mixed emotions in your career before. What has it taken for you to arrive at this type of clarity? Is it a recent development for you?
GD: I think overall I’m a pretty deep person and I like to go with a lot of philosophical viewpoints in life—that’s how I like to see it sometimes. But I think there always comes a point in your life where you just draw a line and say ‘Alright, that’s it.’ And I think this is where the man part of a real man shows up. The man always reaches that point in life where it’s like ‘Okay, I’ve done my mistakes, so let’s just give myself the best shot possible’. And when you can look yourself in the mirror and say I’ve done it all, I’ve given myself the best shot, this is when that line comes.
I’ve always been a hard worker. I’ve always worked. I’ve never felt that I was lacking on the work ethic; it was just the right amount of work or doing the right work. That’s what I feel was the missing part for me. Everything else was pretty normal, pretty natural to me. That’s why at a certain point I was like: ‘wow, this is it’. And that’s how I surrendered myself and those are the things that are very important to me right now.
TTV: When it’s all said and done and your career is over, what would you like written on your tennis tombstone?
GD: Well, a Grand Slam has always been on my mind. In my dreams and everything. I think that once you win a Slam you’ve established yourself not only as a player but as one of those guys. And I often ask myself the question: ‘Why can’t I do it?’
I think I’m capable of doing that. I know I am. I’m saying, what makes me so different than the others? I work just as much if not more, but I still don’t get it. I think definitely that and why not No.1? Why not?
TTV: So, tombstone: “Grigor Dimitrov: Grand Slam champion and former No.1?”
TTV: And last question…the season’s about to be over, are you looking forward to taking a nice break, do you have any holiday plans lined up?
GD: I’m actually going to go to Africa on safari with my family. I’m looking forward to it. There’s still Paris to play so I’m just looking forward to ending up on a good note, then I can draw the line and say ‘This what I’ve done this year, I’m happy for now, and let’s get back to work after.’