At the beginning of the week, I commented on the 2017 edition of the W&S Open as an opportunity for the understudies to step into the spotlight. And now, a little over two hours away from the finals match-up between Nick KYRGIOS (AUS) and Grigor DIMITROV (BUL), I’m not feeling any need or desire to claim prescience. I was merely pointing out an inevitability at this stage.
Rafael Nadal, the only top seed in action at the event, lost to Kyrgios in the quarters, playing in his second match that day due to weather postponements from the previous evening. Nadal would never use that as an excuse for his performance, and by all accounts (and the evidence of the post-match data), Kyrgios played a phenomenal match; as close to the top of his game and potential as anyone has ever seen. It was no small feat to back this up against David Ferrer in the semis. Ferrer represented the old guard and made a strong play at returning to the finals here, but Kyrgios continued to play as if the moment was his and his alone. He’s been the star of his show for so long; it’s probably nice for him to bask in the appreciation of a larger audience.
I had the great fortune to catch Dimitrov earlier in the week, during his match against Lopez and he more than lived up to the Baby Fed nickname, with a crucial distinction. Dimitrov plays like vintage Federer with that lovely free-swinging one-handed backhand without the fiercely mercurial temper we saw in the legend’s younger days. Dimitrov, in a subtlety different way than Kyrgios, knows himself to be a star, and he’s playing into the role every point.
Isner pounded him with 137+ mph serves in key moments in the semis, at one point literally nearly grinding him into the court as he tried to block a return back into the court (more like defend himself from a knockout lightning bolt), but Dimitrov held firm. In the end, the match was decided by two or three strikes in the two tie breakers. That’s all it takes to win.
One of these two will earn his first ATP Masters 1000 title. Both of them, along with Alexander Zverev, will announce to the tennis world that the next generation is moving into the now.
You notice from the start that both players have big serves and know they can make up for minor lapses with a boomer when necessary. Kyrgios, of the two, seems more likely to slip up, to allow his attention to falter for a point or two, which could mean trouble. Dimitrov, in beating Isner, knows how to stay focused, and he won’t make many miscues. He will play as if he knows the tiebreak is inevitable.
Dimitrov does a startling impression of Roger Federer’s game, down to the squash shot. It is like watching Federer minus the effortlessness of his movement. We see Dimitrov working, the strain and humanity, which makes the reflection somewhat more engaging than expected. We relate to him in ways that we never could with Federer.
Of course, with a somewhat careless stretch of points, Kyrgios gives an opportunity to claim the first set to Dimitrov, which he seizes with fiery service game (2 aces). [6-3]
The first six games of the second set has all of the consistent markings of a run to a tiebreak. Engaging rallies with great shot selection and a bit of luck/skill on display, but never enough to snatch control. Kyrgios has moments of frustrations with calls, leading to him wasting challenges, but the set advances onward. Dimitrov succumbs to line call issues too, with both players holding onto one challenge.
Three double faults from Kyrgios when tied at 5-all, gave Dimitrov the first break in the second set. He claims the victory on his service game and joins Kyrgios for a long hug at the net. Each won themselves a measure of respect, but Dimitrov stands alone in the circle, waiting for the US Open.
Dimitrov wins the Western & Southern Open 6-3, 7-5.