Grigor Dimitrov: ‘I Just Have To Find A Way’

WASHINGTON, August 25, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Grigor Dimitrov is nothing if not candid and Sunday afternoon, the World No. 19 from Bulgaria opened up about his COVID-19 ordeal during a 17-minute virtual news conference with reporters. It came soon after he won his first-round match over No. 42 Ugo Humbert of France, 6-3, 6-4, at the Western & Southern Open in New York.

Dimitrov’s victory was his first match since testing positive for the coronavirus in June after participating in the ill-fated Adria Tour, a series of exhibitions in Serbia and Croatia, organized by World No. 1 Novak Djokovic. He described his COVID-19 experience as one of the “toughest battles” he’s ever faced.

“I had no expectation coming into the match,” said Dimitrov, 29, who won the Western & Southern Open title in 2017. “I arrived like a day and a half ago, I’m so jet lagged right now, it’s crazy.”

Dimitrov said he’s still not 100 percent physically, but admitted he wanted to challenge himself by trying to play in New York, which is hosting both the ATP Masters 1000 that normally is held in Mason, Ohio, followed by the US Open in a unique tennis doubleheader. On Monday, in his second match in two days, he fell to 84th-ranked qualifier Marton Fucsovics of Hungary, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 in two hours and 24 minutes.

“There were a lot of obstacles clearly in the last couple of months. I just have to find a way,” said Dimitrov, a native of Haskovo, Bulgaria who now resides in Monte Carlo, Monaco. “That’s part of life whether you’re on the court or outside the court. There’s always plenty of obstacles.”

It became clear from the outset of Dimitrov’s interview session that his win over Humbert was secondary – and the Bulgarian was fine with that. Instead, the focus became his struggles with the coronavirus and Dimitrov did not shy away from talking about his personal ordeal.

“Honestly, I’m just purely thankful that I’m even able just to be here, to participate,” Dimitrov said. “Forget about the match – I’m not even talking about tennis right now.

“I’m just taking it one day at a time. I try to just make sure I’m at my best when I need to play. That’s all I’m thinking right.”

So, just how bad was it for the usually fit and trim Dimitrov in the early going?

As he explained, “The first week was just tragic, coming out of it. I started by just walking. I couldn’t really do any exercise, I could not lift weights, I couldn’t play tennis.”

Dimitrov, who lost a lot of weight while he was sick and looked thinner than his 179-pound (81 kg) weight listed in the ATP media guide, began to take his recovery from coronavirus step by step. Picking up a tennis racquet was the furthest thing on his mind. “So, all I had to do was walk. I started actually crawling in the house, then walking outside,” he said.

After that, Dimitrov said he slowly began to run – just a little bit – each day. Eventually, he began to practice tennis for about 20 minutes at a time and incrementally built his physical endurance. He said he had his doubts that he would be ready to play in the Western & Southern Open, which is the first ATP tournament since the tour went on hiatus in March on the eve of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif.

“I said to myself, ‘I’ll give it a try.’ Now I’m here playing a match today,” said Dimitrov, who reached the US Open semifinals last year for his best result in nine tries.

If Dimitrov’s story is a bit of a lesson for those who might not take the coronavirus illness seriously, that’s because it’s meant to be. Looking ahead, he said he hopes to be an example for other players, who may think they’re invincible from getting COVID-19.

“I just kind of wanted to show a message that it doesn’t matter, in a sense, ‘who you are,’ how fit you are and how healthy you eat, and so on,” he said. “This thing doesn’t ask anybody. We’re all equal.”

Victoria Azarenka: A mixture of joy and relief

When Victoria Azarenka defeated No. 15 seed Donna Vekic of Croatia 6-2, 6-3 during Saturday’s first round of the Western & Southern Open, it represented the Belarus native’s first win of 2020. In fact, a year had passed since Vika’s last victory, which came last August in Cincinnati. In between, she’s fought through injuries and personal matters.

Azarenka’s triumph set up a second-round clash against France’s Caroline Garcia on Monday, which she also won 6-2, 7-6 (8). It was just her fourth match of the year and third in two weeks. One can’t help but notice Azarenka sports a big smile on her these days. It’s like a mixture of joy and relief.

When the 59th-ranked Azarenka sat for a virtual press conference with reporters after her victory against Vekic, she was asked to describe her feelings of chasing after her first win of the season.

“Of course, you think about it,” she said. “I mean, I’m not going to pretend I don’t care about that, because I don’t like to lose. I like to win all the time.

“But you know, it’s kind of like going to a place where you have to be a little bit realistic sometimes and accept that, because I feel like if I wasn’t accepting that I’m coming from a place where I have to build, it’s harder to take that.”

Azarenka pointed to her recent loss against former No. 1 and future Hall of Famer Venus Williams in the Top Seed Open and found positives despite the 6-3, 6-2 final outcome reflected on the scoreboard. “I was able to kind of find something that would work for me maybe later on, which was positive, which I feel is also a bit of a personal growth for me, and build on from that. … Sometimes, it’s a little bit discouraging when you work hard and you put everything in but result doesn’t come,” she said.

“But if you keep going, and obviously today was a day that really showed that what I have been work on, can put it in a match situation … I just want to continue to keep going this way.”

Next, Azarenka will face No. 60 Alizé Cornet of France on Tuesday in the round of 16.

Carla Suárez Navarro / Withdraws from US Open

Denis Shapovalov / All aboard the night train 

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Sofia Kenin / Showing off her US Open collection