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'Baby Fed' Dimitrov coming of age at last

BELIEVE the hype.

ON THE ATTACK: Dimitrov will play aggressively against Murray. Picture: Reuters
ON THE ATTACK: Dimitrov will play aggressively against Murray. Picture: Reuters

Grigor Dimitrov has been called everything from the Messiah to a naughty boy but his second coming as the chosen one of men's tennis appears to be the real deal.

The 23-year-old Bulgarian took care of business against Leonardo Mayer, the Argentine World No.64, on Court No.1 yesterday with an assuredness which utterly endorsed the suggestion that he is finally on the cusp of his coming of age in the grand slams.

Some, though, have been saying that for years. For a while, the teenager - christened 'Baby Fed' when his then Swedish coach Peter Lundgren foolishly proclaimed he was ahead of Roger Federer at that age - was developing a reputation as a playboy rather than a player, but such excesses have been banished in his most recent re-incarnation.

The credit goes to the new woman in his life, five-time major winner Maria Sharapova, and the new man in his life, hardline Aussie coach Roger Rasheed. Speaking after a 6-4, 7-6 (6), 6-2 victory against the Argentine which equalled his best ever grand slam result, and took him further here than any other Bulgarian male in history, Dimitrov hinted that it was time to find a new nickname.

"At the beginning it was kind of easy to hear that," said the 23-year-old. "It was kind of funny. We were all laughing about it. But, you know, at some point when I started to establish myself as a player on the tour, this thing was starting to get a bit out of hand.

"It put a little bit of pressure on my shoulders. But I think now all that thing is starting to fade away. I've proved myself not once, not twice, that I'm a different person, a different player."

Lack of ambition certainly is not one of his shortcomings. "Every tournament I enter is to win the whole event," said Dimitrov, who won his third title this year at Queen's. "That's the whole point of competing. Of course it's not an easy task. I mean it's a lot to ask.

"You're going to be asked a lot of questions from your opponent, so you've got to have the answers. But so far I think I've been performing on a good level and I'm expecting to raise up my level in the next match.

"It's not a new opponent for me. I know him. There's nothing major for me that I need to be aware of."

Once again Murray will find himself confronted by a friend and practice partner. In addition to hitting regularly on the tour, the pair were involved in a light-hearted charity bet the week before Wimbledon on the athletics track nearby the All England Club, when Rasheed beat Murray's fitness trainer Jez Green over 200m.

Emboldened by Rasheed's conditioning work, Dimitrov now feels ready to go the distance over five sets with the Scot. His confidence is aided by the fact his one win in four meetings came in Acapulco earlier this year.

"Oh, yeah," said Dimitrov. "I mean, I've been working for all those moments. And I think it's a great feeling to get into that kind of a match. Of course, the best-case scenario is straight sets. But I'm not playing against a mediocre player.

"I think we get along pretty good," the Bulgarian added of his relationship with the Scot. "I think my team and his team are on pretty good terms. We always have a lot of jokes. Hopefully there will be no hard feelings after the match."

Dimitrov talks a good game but he can play one too. Making light of the intrusion of an untimely rain delay on Court No.1, that fluid service motion of his sent down 10 aces, with a top speed of 135 mph.

That beautiful one-handed backhand swatted away most of his 42 unforced errors. It takes ruthlessness, an impertinence to dethrone a reigning champion on Centre Court, but Dimitrov was not exactly talking his chances down.

"First of all, it's his home basically here," he said. "So, you know, he's been playing a lot of matches on the Centre Court. But I'm just going to play my game. I'm not going to step back. I just want to come out and play my aggressive tennis.

"I'm focusing on my game and what I can bring to the court. The rest is, you know, going to come."

He may be right. But a 27-year-old from Dunblane will go into the match determined to delay that inevitable emergence of his for another week or two.

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