Andy Murray blazed through Blaz Rola -- a spectacularly-named opponent -- at the All England Club this afternoon, surrendering only two games, his fewest ever in a match at Wimbledon. But he did surrender a piece of real estate.
As Murray played on Court One, Centre Court was occupied by an up-and-coming colleague, Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria. Known as an off-brand Federer, Dimitrov is an ascending star with a new, lucrative Nike deal to prove it. Having won his third title of 2014 last week at Queen’s Club, he has pruned his ATP ranking to No. 13. Putting him on Centre Court was another signifier of optimism for his potential.
Just when you’re about to anoint Dimitrov as a young star, this inconvenient truth surfaces: he ain’t all that young. At 23, Dimitrov is older than Mike Trout and has almost three years on Jordan Spieth, the young golfer. We talk about the Big Four (Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray) and how "30 is the new 20” is tennis. But if this has been a golden era of reliable, durable stars, playing competitively well into their 30s, here’s the underbelly: there’s not a lot standing in the way of labeling someone a member Generation Next. In fact, no player under the age of 25 has even made a Grand Slam final, much won one. So it is that a 23-year-old, yet to crack the top ten, qualifies as a hot prospect.
Still, there’s plenty to like about Dimitrov. In what was less a match than a performance and more a demonstration of skill and precision and, yes, potential -- Dimitrov had little trouble this afternoon with Luke Saville of Australia. The comparisons between Dimitrov and Federer are unfortunate -- perhaps an impossible benchmark -- but they’re inevitable as well.
Dimitrov flung his gorgeous one-handed backhand and won points from all over the court -- including 19 times when he hastened to the net. He served well, played with an efficient elegance, and generally looked like a top-flight player. He won 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, but there was never anything remotely resembling suspense.
“First of all, I just want to say how honored I was to play on the Centre Court. I think it's every kid's dream,” Dimitrov said. “I was just really happy to get out there and play a match like that.”
Every the realist -- again, Federer in miniature -- Dimitrov knows it's getting to be put-up-or-shut-up time. Age 23 is awfully mature to be a Next Big Thing.
“I know we all want to break through,” he said. “I think especially the younger generation, we all want to push through those slams and start winning a few, which I believe it's around the corner for any one of us.”
One of the many virtues of sports: someone has to win. We may not know the identity, but they will still crown Wimbledon champions once the Big Four abdicates. We may not have another era like the present, but there will be a lineage. And Dimitrov stands as good a chance as any of being a king one day.
Five thoughts from Wimbledon Day 3
• Victoria Azarenka -- still recovering from injury -- fell to Bojana Jovanovski. This loss wasn't a complete shocker, as she's been healing a foot injury and has played only three matches since the Australian Open. Grass isn't her best surface, anyway
• In another mild upset, David Ferrer, who struggled with illness last week, was taken out by Andrey Kuznetsov. This snaps Ferrer’s streak of reaching at least the third round at 17 majors.
• Failing to replicate his success in Paris, Ernests Gulbis lost to Sergiy Stakhovsky (who beat Federer in the second round a year ago) in straight sets. And in his post-match press conference, he didn't discuss his match or how his deep run at the French Open may have compromised his game today. Instead, Gulbis was adamant about setting a few things straight: he did not lose his entire French Open winnings to a Monte Carlo casino; he is a better ping pong player than Victoria Azarenka; and his family has an extensive Latvian art collection.
• Venus and Serena Williams came back from 0-3 down in the third set to defeat Olga Kalashnikova and Oksana Savchuk 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 in the first round of the women's doubles tournament. The pair won Wimbledon back in 2012, when Serena also won the singles title.
• For the second-straight time at Wimbledon, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's match was suspended due to darkness. He and American Sam Querrey were knotted at 9-9 in the fifth set.
I appreciate you acknowledging the volume of anti-grunting mail you receive, despite it being a topic that has been thoroughly discussed. But I've noticed something lately, and I'm wondering if it's accurate: the worst offenders are not the future of the game. The French Open final of Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep was a case in point. Granted, Azarenka is only 24 and many screamers have a number of years left. But whenever I tune in to matches featuring the brightest young up-and-comers, it seems like they are as a group not buying into it. Could it be that we just need to wait a few more years for this to pass from tennis' system?
-- Jason of Brooklyn, N.Y.
• Now all they need is to hit one-handed backhands. The WTA gently tried to encourage some of the offending players not to grunt. They basically said, “Nah, we’re good thanks.” Actually, they probably said, “AAAEEEUHHHH!!!! Nah, we’re good, thanks EEE-UHHHH.” While grandfathering in some of the warblers, the WTA let it be known to the next generation that grunting was offensive and won't be tolerated.
It’s only the second round, but which players have impressed you most at Wimbledon?
-- Jim, New York
• The word is out on Roberto Bautista Agut, but he’s as good as advertised. Also, Madison Keys is a boring choice, but she looked thoroughly impressive on grass and has a level of pure power that other prospects lack.
• Thanks. A few of you were kind enough to note that. In the interest of full disclosure, note that Dustin Brown, my men’s sleeper, crashed in round one, as did Julia Goerges. So it goes with these predictions…
• You're the first. And for that, you win today's long-lost siblings prize.