NEW YORK – The 2017 season has been a renaissance for Grigor Dimitrov. He started the year with a title in Brisbane and followed that with a semifinals appearance at the Australian Open, falling in five sets to Rafael Nadal. After winning his first Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati last week, Dimitrov is back in the top 10 for the first time since 2014.
With several top players—Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic—skipping the U.S. Open due to injury, Dimitrov is suddenly a contender at the year’s final Grand Slam event. After winning Cincinnati without dropping a set, Dimitrov is poised to make a serious run in Flushing Meadows for the first time in his career.
Ahead of the U.S. Open, Dimitrov spoke to SI in New York on behalf of Wilson, which just launched a new digital custom tennis racket platform. After showing off his own special-designed racket and demonstrating the new online platform, Dimitrov discussed his relationship to his fellow pros, his love for The Notebook and more.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Stanley Kay: In Cincinnati, you and Nick Kyrgios shared a long hug at the net after the final. You obviously seemed to help him out a lot during the week. What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten from a fellow pro?
Grigor Dimitrov: I’ve never had anybody voluntarily come to me and give me advice, which is OK I guess. But me asking somebody—one of the nicest things that I actually heard, and it was pretty recent, was when I practiced with Rafa [Nadal] in Mallorca. We were just on a boat together one afternoon, we were resting, and I was like, “Man, what do you think? What do you think about my game?” And he just says, “Just keep doing what you’re doing and don’t miss.” And I was like, “Wow, thanks!”
(Laughs) I know it’s funny, but for me when he said it, it sounded different. Of course when your coach says it it’s different, but somebody of his rank, as a person and player, to say it the way he said it to me—I was like, aha! I never thought of that, almost. You almost feel like I never thought of that.
Also Roger for sure. Throughout the years I’ve known him, I’ve gotten to know him very well—his family and everybody around, so he’s also always been the guy. He says, “Don’t put your head down, just keep doing what you are doing. It will come, it will come.” And then even yesterday I saw him actually, and he was like, “You see, sometimes things are that simple.” I was like, “Yeah, easy for you to say.”
He’s like, “No, it’s that simple sometimes.” And in a way, it’s right. Once the opportunities knock on your door, you’ve got to try and go get them. If it doesn't happen, it doesn’t happen. But at the same time, you’ve got to keep going.
I have a great relationship with all of them too, so that makes things also look a bit in perspective. It’s the same thing with Nick—I’m sure that’s not going to be our last final, I can tell you that much. But you can see sometimes, there’s more to tennis for me. Yes, when you’re out there on the court, you want to beat the guy. You hate him, you don’t want to talk to him, you don’t want to see him. You swear at him, and everything else you can possibly think of. But there’s so much more to tennis. When I see somebody that—I don’t want to say needs help, but was in a tough position, if he asks me, why wouldn’t I try to help? […] Even if he had beaten me the other day, I would still have the same feelings for that. I know tennis is just a game, but it’s something that it can actually unite us even more.
SK: People have called you Baby Fed throughout your career. But who is Baby Grigor?
GD: Oh man. That is up for the people to decide. I haven’t seen any guys who are playing similar to me right now. I’m sure there’s going to be kids that are going to come up and have a similar style, but also the backhand one-hands are kind of—not that many anymore. It’s probably like five to six guys right now, one-handers. So there’s your first obstacle to find that new Grigor. But yeah, I don’t know. I was actually talking earlier about it—I need to start watching those young kids that are coming up, because I’m sure after a few years they’re going to give me hell on the court. So I just need to start looking at their game and see their patterns, so I think this is something I need to look into.
SK: I saw a Twitter Q&A you did a few years ago. You said The Notebook is your favorite movie.
GD: It still is.
SK: What scene makes you cry the most?
GD: The scene when she goes to see him on the lake. They go on the water, and they start feeding the birds or ducks, whatever that was there. They come back. It starts raining, and [she] says to [him]: “Why didn’t you write me?”
He says: “I wrote you, every single day, one letter for 365 days.”
And then she says: “You wrote me?” And then I go—no not me, I wish I was in the movie! S---, I wish I was in the damn movie. (Laughs)
He says, “It wasn’t over for me.” And then he says: “It still isn’t over.”
And then—you can do the math for the rest. They jump in each other’s arms.
SK: I’m getting misty-eyed.
GD: Me too. Me too, man.
SK: That was amazing presentation.
GD: I swear to God—sometimes I have to stop and just pause it. I couldn’t take it. My heart.
SK: Do you usually watch it by yourself?
GD: Mainly, yeah, because I just don’t want [others] to see me crying I guess. But I’m past that.
SK: It’s ok!
GD: It’s fine! I don’t care, it’s fine. It’s just me. But this scene is (gesturing to his heart)—yeah, right there.
SK: Walk me through your racket design.
GD: This is one out of one. This is the first racket we actually ever designed. This is Grigor Dimitrov, man. [Regarding the quote on the racket], have you read the book, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari?
SK: No, but I think I just read that Garbine Muguruza likes that book too.
GD: And we both won the tournament in Cincinnati! It’s a great book. But this racket is inspired from cars, military—one day I was going to practice, and I opened my trunk. And as soon as I touched my car I was like wow I like this color. This is when the idea hit me up about having the same color and the same feel on the racket.
This is inspired obviously from the military. I like camouflage a lot. […] I just wanted something else to stick out, just to be different out there on the court, and making sure as soon as you hit the ball how it looks and how it feels from the outside. So we came up with those colors. The gray came—we took a lot of time on the gray. We had like eight different type of gray colors coming into the racket, and we just kind of had to find the best color.
SK: How close of attention do you pay to other players’ racket designs?
GD: Never. Just my own. The same thing when you play a match, you always try to focus on your side of the net. It’s pretty simple—it’s just something that I’ve always wanted to do, that is to create. To get this opportunity to create a racket has always been a dream of mine. What if my racket looked like this? What if it my racket looked like that? There was this thing that was always in the back of my head. I always wanted things to stand out, to be different. We’ve found the right match I think.