Wimbledon 2019: First round exit reaffirms Grigor Dimitrov's free fall since highs of 2017

Anuradha Santhanam
Grigor Dimitrov has been in a free fall to drop near the 50th ranked mark on the ATP Tour after first round exit at Wimbledon.

Being nicknamed after Roger Federer should be an honour, or so one would assume. For Grigor Dimitrov, the comparisons grated to the extent that he bristled at the mere mention of his most popular nickname - "Baby Fed" - and sought to consistently move as far away as he could from that title.

For the last couple of years, however, one thing Dimitrov has seen is a steady journey down the rankings. At a high of World No 3 in 2017, the Bulgarian is now staring at an exit from the top-50 and quick. Looking at the Dimitrov of today, particularly the grass court seasons of the past few years, you might not necessarily think you were looking at a former boys' singles champion at SW19. And what let him down on Monday was one of the most important parts of any tennis player's game, particularly at Wimbledon: his serve.

Cruising two sets to love against Corentin Moutet in the first round at Wimbledon, Dimitrov - up a robust 6-2, 6-3, inexplicably fell to pieces quickly. Attempting to hold on, the Bulgarian even served for the match in the third set, only to see a five-set exit in the end against his 20-year-old rival.

Moutet would win 2-6, 3-6, 7-6(7-4), 6-3, 6-1.

The rankings, the free-fall, and no return

To borrow a phrase from Tom Petty, 28-year-old Dimitrov's rankings have been free fallin' ever since he peaked, but perhaps never as drastically as they have in the past few months. He has repeatedly lost on every surface to lower-ranked players; made to work to reach the fourth round at the Australian Open, the Bulgarian had two first round exits and two second round exits during the clay court stretch.

Perhaps the only thing consistent about Dimitrov recently has been his inconsistency. His patchy serve has let him down on more than one occasion, and this year, he has also not worked extensively on it. Sidelined with a shoulder injury and forced to withdraw from Rotterdam and Acapulco, he has not been able to hone it as much as he would have liked.

Barring his errant shoulder, Dimitrov is fit and at 28 is in the prime age bracket to be performing at optimal level. Still, from the Dimitrov we have seen over the past few years, his serve and gameplay has been inconsistent, unsure and not characteristic of someone who, only two years ago, put up a spirited fight against Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals of the Australian Open.

That same year, Dimitrov managed a fourth round finish at the All-England Championships, and for a few years, he was the ATP's golden boy. Finishing the season as the World No 3 with a title win at the year-end finals, he capped off a few seasons that had been on the up-and-up for some time. Unfortunately for Dimitrov, his descent seems to be just as quick, and with no respite in sight.

Is Dimitrov's problem physical or mental? His shoulder aside, Dimitrov has had no major niggles, but he has seemed consistently shaky, unsure of himself, and at a period in his carer where he should have settled into some form of routine, at least in terms of serve and technique, he seems to be lacking confidence.

Once able to consolidate to keep himself afloat in matches that may have seemed doomed, Dimitrov has this year been unable to do even that. Suffering early losses to a number of the ATP's younger players - among them Felix Auger Aliassime and Taylor Fritz, Dimitrov's serve - particularly his second serve - has been a point of concern . During his match against Moutet, the Bulgarian had a 51% win rate on his second serve, and the fact that he was taken to 19 break points should really say it all for the Bulgarian.

There is no doubt Dimitrov is aware of his woes. Last month, the Bulgarian decided to part ways with his coach of three years (Dani Vallverdu) under whose tutelage Dimitrov had reached his career-highest ranking. Perhaps that relationship had atrophied, perhaps Dimitrov felt he was caught in a rut he could not get out of.

Now coached by former World No 1 Andre Agassi, there are crucial ways in which the Bulgarian could benefit. His game has, for the past year, and in his round one match at Wimbledon, been all over the place. Winning two sets and pushing your rival to a tiebreak only to be breadsticked in the decider is a clear beacon of just how patchy Dimitrov was. And indeed, as so many of Dimitrov's recent losses have been, it was the case of the player losing the match for himself. In any case, he certainly did not look like someone who has made three Grand Slam semi-finals, and held his own against the best in the game not too long ago.

Unfortunately for Dimitrov, he has been unable to do one crucial thing: figure out his game and perfect it - and therein lies the rub. Agassi's ability to consistently play strong, attacking, raw tennis and hit powerful serve after powerful serve is what saw him return to his prime playing form even after his stint off the court. It is that consistency, that discipline, that raw power that Dimitrov lacks, and would do well to imbibe.

Agassi may not have had the greatest start to his own coaching career with Novak Djokovic, but should Dimitrov be able to imbibe even some of the mental strength Agassi showed throughout his career, it could turn his descent around. After all, he is no stranger to the ups and downs of rankings, having suffered a slump in 2015 after a strong 2014 season. If Dimitrov does not make those changes quickly, however, he could well be on cruise control towards the bottom end of the top 100.

Also See: Roger Federer was 'great draw' on 1999 Wimbledon debut, says his first-ever opponent Jiri Novak

Wimbledon 2019: Refreshed Angelique Kerber relishing emotional return to SW19's grass

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