Most tennis fans if not all tennis fans drool over the beauty of the single handed backhands. Even at club level this is the shot most practitioners try it during practice and resort to the slice in match play. There is something very unique about the execution of this shot. As a fan I have always made it a point to watch Richard Gasquet and Stan Wawrinka during my US open visits over the years. Along with Roger Federer, Dominic Thiem and Grigor Dimitrov, they are the best exponents of this shot at the highest level. And tonight in Melbourne, Gasquet and Dimitrov will go toe to toe against each other to earn the last spot in the round of 16. This clash excites lot of folks due to the very organic tennis that will be on display.
The Frenchmen Gasquet is a wily veteran who has been around the sport for quite sometime now. His career is good by any means even though he did not quite live up to the hype that has surrounded him since he was nine years old. He has been a solid stay in the top 20 for most part of the last decade, even breaking in top 10 on brief occasions. Gasquet’s career has been marked by the consistency of beating most men ranked below a certain number or quality and similarly he has not been able to beat most men ranked in the top echelons of the rankings consistently. The expectations usually play a huge role on how the media and fans eventually start judging a player. Tonight he can relax a bit in my opinion because he is playing a man who has taken the disappointment label away from Gasquet in the last few years. Dimitrov like Gasquet plays a very silky brand of tennis. He also has been compared now for an eternity to the elegance of tennis standard – Roger Federer. These comparisons have possibly taken its toll on the Bulgarian over the years as he had modeled his game around the Swiss maestro’s. His turmoils on the tennis court are no secret to anyone who follows the sport. However last year he had his biggest meltdown in the Istanbul final and reached a mental low for some events to follow. He was struggling to win matches. Victor Troicki who beat him in the opening round of Roland Garros in five sets said after the match, that he was aware of the lack of confidence issue Dimitrov was having in his game and fully used that to his advantage in the last set.
It took Dimitrov a while to sort those demons and finally under the guidance of new coach Danny Vellverdu, he has started winning matches. He comes to this match full of confidence after his victory in Brisbane, where he dismissed two of his biggest rivals Raonic and Nishikori. Dimitrov also played a tough match in his second round with next gen star Hyeon Chung, where he had to figure out a way to unsettle the youngster. He looks hungry and motivated more than ever. His generation’s window is shrinking continuously as the top guys are formidable and the younger one’s are coming on fast. With Djokovic gone from the bottom half now, Dimitrov and others are probably seeing this as their time to make a move. In order to advance he has to score a win tonight against Gasquet, who he trails 1-5 in head to head professionally. After the Chung match, I strongly believe it is Dimitrov’s time to make a charge this year. Is he ready to win a major? I don’t know but he sure seems poised to find that answer as he tries to advance in the bottom half. His serve seems to be improved and will be the key stat against the Frenchmen tonight. It will be entertaining tennis as usual and purist will be delighted to see those backhand exchanges. I think Dimitrov is ready and wins in 4 sets.