BRISBANE, Australia — Grigor Dimitrov concentrated on fun and games at the season-opening Brisbane International, looking for something a bit different to his regular routine.
It turns out, that’s what he’d been missing. Dimitrov ended a title drought that dated back to 2014 when he beat third-seeded Kei Nishikori 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 in the final on Sunday.
The 25-year-old Bulgarian attributed some late-night trips to the game arcades in downtown Brisbane for the change of fortunes.
“I played motor bikes, we played cars, basketball, I mean, I went there with my fitness coach and we were – I think we were the biggest kids out there,” he said. “You know, it’s something so childish, if you want to say it.
“Well, every time I was going to bed, I was, like, ’Wow, that feels so good.’ It’s just something so small.”
Dimitrov, dubbed ’Baby Fed’ earlier in his career for his style similarities with Roger Federer, lost the Brisbane International final to Andy Murray in 2013. He won three titles and reached the Wimbledon semifinals in 2014 as he rose to a career-high ranking of No. 8.
But his form faded and he slipped down the rankings to No. 40 by the middle of last year.
That’s when he had to make some decisions, refocus, set some goals. The first was to win a tournament in 2017 – he’s achieved that in the first week of the season. There are other goals, including better runs at the Grand Slams – he hasn’t been past the fourth round since a career peak in the Wimbledon semifinals in 2014, when he beat Murray but lost to Novak Djokovic.
He entered the season-opening Brisbane event ranked No. 17 and seeded seventh, and could rise to No. 15 for the Australian Open, which starts Jan. 16.
“It’s been pretty emotional,” Dimitrov said. “This trophy means a lot.”
He didn’t elaborate too much on any emotional upheaval, saying it’s part and parcel of touring so much as a professional player. But he did say he needed to adjust how he spends his time on the road.
“I’m the kind of guy that I cannot just lock myself in the room and just think tennis for 24 hours. It hasn’t helped me,” he said. “And since I have been here, every night I’ve been going to the arcades, for example, for an hour and a half, been playing arcades. It’s given me tremendous joy.
“That’s why I say those, I think, these 10 days that I have been here – I don’t remember having so much fun, but in the same time I was very focused, played quite solid all the matches. So I was just – overall, I just felt good.”
He beat defending champion Milos Raonic in the semifinals, improving his career record to 3-1 against the big-serving Canadian.
He’d never beaten Nishikori in three previous matches, and he had to save break points in the first game and again in the third. After that, he went on a roll.
Nishikori, who reached his first Brisbane final after losing three previous semifinals, fended off a breakpoint early in the second set and went on to break Dimitrov’s serve twice in an almost reverse of the first set.
But the Japanese star lost momentum after a medical timeout for a left hip problem after the second set, and Dimitrov dominated before getting the decisive break in the eighth game and then serving out at love.
Nishikori said the hip pain was intense in the second set, and may force him out of a scheduled exhibition match in Sydney on Monday before he heads to Melbourne.
“Well, sort of it was OK, but yeah, a little bit sad to finish (the tournament) like this,” he said. “But I think it was great week to start of the year. I had good four matches here. Well, I try to stay healthy next week and hope I can be ready for,” for the Australian Open. –John Pye