Dimitrov takes the extra step

On his 14th visit to Roland-Garros, the Bulgarian is at one with the Paris clay

Grigor Dimitrov, second round, Rolnd-Garros 2024©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Chris Oddo

There was already clay caked all over his kit when Grigor Dimitrov took flight, diving for a volley and coming up short in a frenetic point as the Lenglen faithful screamed their appreciation. There is blood – quite a bit, actually – dripping down his hands and running onto his racquet grip. He doesn’t ask for the trainer. He plays on. 

The Bulgarian is one with the clay – and the quest – this year in Paris.

“My grip was all covered in blood,” he told the press, two hours after his triumph over Poland's Hubert Hurkacz, the right hand sporting a tidy bandage. “I just realised after. It's how it is. I don't mind that. It actually brings me back to a lot of the childhood memories when I used to play on various surfaces, and of course, the clay back home. It brought good memories.” 

Whatever it takes, that’s the mentality. And it’s a mindset that is paying dividends for the 33-year-old, who on Sunday ticked a major achievement when he joined the small group of active players that have reached the quarter-finals at all four majors.

This one, on the storied clay of Roland-Garros, took the longest.

“It was the only Slam that I never felt I could get that extra step,” an emotional Dimitrov told the crowd on Sunday, after vanquishing Hurkacz in three thrilling sets. “Today, fifteen years later, I made it, so I’m very happy with that.” 

Grigor Dimitrov, fourth round, Roland-Garros 2024©Philippe Montigny / FFT

There has been a lot for Dimitrov to be happy about in the last year. Last November, in Bercy, he reached his first Masters 1000 final since 2017.

He carried the momentum into the 2024 season, and quickly won a title in Brisbane, defeating Holger Rune in the final to raise a trophy on tour for the first time since he won the ATP Finals title in 2017. In April, Dimitrov returned to the top-10 for the first time since 2018 when he reached another Masters 1000 final, at Miami.

A former world No.3 that could easily rest on his laurels at this stage of his career, Dimitrov refuses to be satisfied. It is this eternal hunger to break new ground that has fueled his resurgence. 

“I think as a player you're never fully satisfied,” he said earlier this spring. “I believe I can raise up my game a little bit more, and in order for me to get to the top of the game, I need to be able to step it up a little bit more.

“That means try to be even a little bit more aggressive on the court, go after the shots, play a little bit more with conviction, stay focused, keep on doing the work. There are so many little things that I think I'm doing very, very well already, and I'm very proud of where I'm at right now, considering where I was a year ago.”

Here in Paris, Dimitrov is thriving on the clay in a way that he never has before. He’s learned to embrace the sport's most demanding surface, and understands how to make it work for him. 

“I like my chances,” he said of his clay game. “I like that I can use my body a lot, that I can chase balls all around the court, that I’m able to use my slice and my variety, at the same time, when the ball is there to be hit, I try to make the most out of it.” 

On Tuesday, Dimitrov will come in as the underdog against No.2-seeded Jannik Sinner, but given how far he has come in the last 52 weeks, it’s a challenge he believes he can handle. 

No matter the outcome, he’s embracing the opportunity. 

“He’s a great competitor, but so am I,” Dimitrov said with a confident smile. “Yeah, you enter into a very good place at a Grand Slam where I think we all want to be. It's an exciting moment. It's a good occasion. Let's play it out.” 

Grigor Dimitrov, fourth round, Roland-Garros 2024©Philippe Montigny / FFT