Rising star Grigor Dimitrov notched the best win of his young career downing world No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic Wednesday in the second round of the Madrid Masters. The Bulgarian Dimitrov whose game resembles Roger Federer’s, was just 2-19 career vs. Top 10 players entering the match with the Monte Carlo champion Djokovic, but after struggling with cramps he walked away with the crowd’s favor, red dirt caked on his clothes and the pure taste of victory 7-6(6), 6-7(8), 6-3.
“Of course this has been what I’ve been working for, to play matches like that, and why not win them?” said Dimitrov who had lost in three to Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo last month. “Today was one of these days that I felt good on court. I felt I had enough hours of practice in the weeks before. I felt that I could actually hang with Novak the whole match. That’s the whole purpose of getting ready for big events and eventually for big matches.”
And Dimitrov did just that, hung with Djokovic. Grigor actually led a set and a break before Djokovic turned that ailing right again late in the second with break points. After an 8-minute or so MTO, Djokovic returned but was unable to convert the break. But Dimitrov began to severely cramp and was unable to serve out the match. As Djokovic gained steam and confidence, shaking off any ankle concerns, it looked bleak for Dimitrov.
Down 5-2 in the second set break, the cramps seemed to subside and Dimitrov regained some footing. He squandered a matchpoint but had found some momentum and had the crowd who turned on Novak heading into the third. And he struck immediately breaking a listless Djokovic to open the final set. It was the only break he needed.
“I thought the tie-break was pretty intense obviously,” said Dimitrov. “He stepped up on a few shots. He’s Novak. In the end of the day, you can expect anything from him. He played a great tie-break, so I couldn’t do much… Of course I tried to stay really positive. I believed in myself. I think that was the big sparkle coming into the third set.”
Dimitrov, who turns 22 in two weeks, is the youngest player to beat a No. 1 since a 21-year-old Kei Nishikori also beat Djokovic at 2011 Basel. He’ll now have to regroup for another tough test in the next round on Thursday likely against an in-form Stan Wawrinka.
“It’s a great win for me. Good day at the office. I know it’s a big thing, of course. But you got to stay on the ground. Hopefully you’re going to face these guys for years. You never know how it’s going to be next time,” Dimitrov said. “You got to be ready and try to work at it every day and see it as just another test to do and something exciting to look forward.”
For Djokovic, the loss was his earliest exit of the season and suddenly cast some doubt as to his chances in Paris especially with the ankle again a concern and little time now for rest with Rome next week.
“I thought it was the right decision because, luckily for me, nothing really happened when I twisted the ankle during the match,” Djokovic said. “It was a slight moment. I had good protection on my ankle. So right now that is the only positive thing that I look into, is that I didn’t injure my ankle worse before Rome and Paris.”
Djokovic admitted he oddly hadn’t played in 12 days since his big Monte Carlo title over Nadal, and at times during the match he looked far from his usual self.
“For 12 days after Monte Carlo, I haven’t touched the racquet,” he revealed. “I didn’t prepare myself so well. But I’m not trying to find any excuses for the loss. I tried to do my best… All the credit also to Dimitrov, because he was the better player on the court. He was striking the ball really well, serving great, changing the pace and he deserved to win.”
Novak had won the title in his last appearance at the tournament when it was played on red clay in 2011.
Djokovic’s countryman Janko Tipsarevic, who beat him last year in Madrid, continued his struggles losing to Juan Monaco. Richard Gasquet and Milos Raonic were also upset by Spaniards Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Fernando Verdasco, respectively.
Defending champion Roger Federer made a successful return to tennis. After a 54 day hiatus, Federer routed Radek Stepenak 6-3, 6-3.
“I didn’t think I played incredible, but that’s not what I was expecting myself to do here. But I didn’t play bad, either,” said Federer. “So I’m very happy with how things went today. Stepanek is a player who can cause a lot of difficulties in the game. He has caused me difficulties in the past. Today that wasn’t the case. I thought I was pretty much in control.”
Andy Murray followed the Swiss with tough yet strong win over Florian Mayer in two tiebreakers for his 400th career match victory. “It’s always difficult playing your first match at altitude,” said Murray who was down a break for much of the second set. “I felt like I hit the ball very well today, very few miss-hits. I just didn’t return so well. That was the only thing I would have liked to have done better. I moved very well, which I didn’t do in Monte Carlo, so that’s a big improvement.”
Murray moves on to face Gilles Simon on Thursday.
In the women’s field, after having to endure boyfriend Dimitrov’s 3-hour, 5-minute epic – the longest 3-setter on the men’s tour this season – Maria Sharapova crushed Christina McHale 6-1, 6-2 as the clock struck midnight. “It was important to be ready and start quickly, especially since we started so late,” Sharapova said. “I knew I had to be focused from the very beginning, and I think I did a good job with that today.”
Fellow Slam winners/No. 1s Serena Williams and Ana Ivanovic were also easy winners on the day.
On tap tomorrow, Spanish favorites Rafael Nadal, Nicolas Almagro and David Ferrer are in action along with Victoria Azarenka and in maybe the best match on the card 2012 finalist Tomas Berdych takes on Jerzy Janowicz.
With Djokovic’s loss, Nadal can really tighten the No. 1 race this week with a title and now if he wins both Madrid and Rome he’ll have the 2013 points lead heading into the French.
MANOLO SANTANA start 10:50 am
K Kanepi (EST) vs C Suarez Navarro (ESP) – WTA
 V Azarenka (BLR) vs E Makarova (RUS) – WTA
Not Before 3:15 PM
 R Nadal (ESP) vs B Paire (FRA) – ATP
[Q] R Haase (NED) vs  J Tsonga (FRA) – ATP
Not Before 8:00 PM
D Istomin (UZB) vs  D Ferrer (ESP) – ATP
Not Before 9:30 PM
 A Ivanovic (SRB) vs L Robson (GBR) – WTA
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