Dimitrov survives five-set thriller

 - Kate Battersby

No.4 seed twice comes back from a set down to beat NextGen star Jared Donaldson 10-8 in the fifth.

Grigor Dimitrov, Roland Garros 2018, Simple Messieurs, 2eme Tour©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Nothing succeeds like success, right? To judge by Grigor Dimitrov's jaunty demeanour two hours after his second round win at Roland-Garros 2018, strangers might have assumed his 50th Grand Slam singles victory came at a stroll, and that reaching the last 32 at Roland-Garros was only to be expected.

Don’t be deceived. In fact the fourth seed seed required four hours and 19 minutes to overcome the world no.57 Jared Donaldson 6-7(1) 6-4 4-6 6-4 10-8; and by making the third round here, he has equalled his career-best performance at the French Open. Dimitrov was so relieved to outlast his opponent in the endurance dogfight that he kissed each of his own knees en route to the handshake at the net.

“I just felt good,” he smiled in explanation. “I know what it is to be on the other side, and cramping. I know he tried his best. He was playing very physical tennis from the first point, and played a very good match. I thought I had quite a bit left in the tank, which was great. I finished the match in a comfortable way, even though it was 10-8 in the fifth.

“It’s great to win a match in five sets – it stays with you, you keep it, especially on clay and here at the French Open. It was one of those matches when I didn’t play my best, but found a way to hear those last words – game, set, match.”

In front of a packed crowd on the new Court 18, the Bulgarian – who arrived in Paris on a three-match losing streak – was sorely challenged by the gritty 21-year-old NextGen star, even though Donaldson has never managed back-to-back victories on clay.

The American was cramping so severely at 6-6 in the fifth set that he served underarm to draw an error and secure the game; but when he tried it again at 8-8 his opponent was wise to it, and at last secured the crucial break. But Dimitrov – in victory at least – had no problem with the tactic. Underarm was not underhand.

“Everything is in the game – simple as that,” he shrugged. “It was beautiful, right? Very smart for him to do that. I've done it once in my career and it worked, although I can’t remember when it was – juniors, I think. He wanted to try to put me off guard. But also I know why he did it – he was hurting big time.”

Grigor Dimitrov, Roland Garros 2018, Simple Messieurs, 2eme Tour©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Dimitrov got off to a horrible start. He got lost on the way to the new court and was scolded by umpire Louise Engzell for his lateness, and once the match started he served three double faults in his opening game. And that was just for starters.

He is likelier to find the going tougher still in round three, against clay specialist Fernando Verdasco who has already beaten the Bulgarian this year at Indian Wells.

“That's how it is, and it's fine,” said Dimitrov. “In tennis everybody has obstacles, whether it's going to a new court or playing a new opponent. You don’t sleep the best every night, you have weird dreams. So today it was another obstacle for me to go play on the new court and find a way to win, and that's what I did.”

For now, the third round obstacle called Verdasco can wait. Right now, Grigor Dimitrov is feeling good.