Dimitrov seeks to stop Sinner’s rise in Miami

March 30, 2024

Peter Staples/ATP Tour

By Andy West

Jannik Sinner has never been better placed to take home the Miami Open presented by Itau trophy.

The Italian, the fittest man on the ATP Tour, enters his third ATP Masters 1000 championship match with a 21-1 record on the season. The 22-year-old feels ready to banish his memories of the 2021 and 2023 final defeat in Miami as he prepares for a title clash with Grigor Dimitrov on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.

“The first time I came here I made it to the final, I couldn’t sleep the night [anterior]”Sinner said on Friday after overcoming his 2023 conqueror Daniil Medvedev after leaving only three games in the semifinals. “The second time, which was last year, I was relaxed because I went through periods where I already [había tenido] similar experiences.
“Now I’m a different player, a different person. I hope to do it a little better again.”

However, Sinner won’t be the only player on the court on Sunday who is in the midst of a golden streak. Former World No. 3 Dimitrov has displayed some of the best tennis of his career over the past 12 months, during which he has reached five ATP Tour finals (including Masters 1000 title matches in Paris and Miami) and broke their six-year drought without winning a ninth tour trophy in January in Brisbane.

After beating Top 10 rivals Hubert Hurkacz, Carlos Alcaraz and Alexander Zverev in three consecutive matches to reach his first final in Miami, Dimitrov will hit the court against Sinner with the guarantee of returning to the Top 10 of the PIF ATP Rankings for the first time since 2018 It’s a reward for the 32-year-old’s resurgent form, but not his ultimate goal as he seeks his second Masters 1000 crown (Cincinnati, 2017).

“For me the best thing, above all that, is that I’ve been able to put those matches in a row,” Dimitrov said after knocking down Zverev on Friday night in Florida. “I think the consistency of beating top players is a much bigger success than anything else. If you do it, things get better for you. But to do it, that’s where everything comes into focus.”

“The discipline, the hard work, all the dedication, adapting to very different players for all that time, you have to be able to do it consistently. That’s been going on for the last eight, nine, twelve months. It’s been difficult “I have had very difficult games that I have lost, but I have continued believing, I have continued doing the work.”

Dimitrov has not defeated Sinner since the first tour-level meeting in 2020 on the clay of Rome, with the Italian fighting back to take a 2-1 lead in the Lexus ATP Head2Head series by winning their two subsequent meetings, both the year past and on hard court, in Miami and Beijing.

However, if the Bulgarian can replicate the high-level displays he put on against Alcaraz and Zverev, he will be confident of scoring his first hard court victory against his rival. Dimitrov converted six of the 10 break points he won in those two matches, according to Infosys ATP Stats, and Sinner, whose own improvements on serve have been key to his successes over the past year, is well aware of the threat posed by the eleventh seed.

“We saw an incredible Grigor [contra Alcaraz]” Sinner said Friday. “He played incredible tennis. He has a lot of physical talent, he is in very good shape. He has the talent to change things on a tennis court by the way he plays. He can retreat, he can come closer. He has a very good hand. He can do whatever he wants.”

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For Sinner, the mental aspect of the game could be key as he looks to dispel any lingering memories of his Miami final losses to Hurkacz (in 2021) and Medvedev (2023). The last eight months, in which he has won his first Masters 1000 (Toronto), his first Grand Slam title (Australian Open) and has reached World No. 3 will probably help him adapt to the occasion.

“I have learned to enjoy the moment, because Sunday is a great day for tennis players,” said Sinner, who if he wins the title will surpass Alcaraz and become world No. 2. “If you’re still in the tournament, it means it’s the best day, an exciting day. So I’m just trying to enjoy this moment.”

“It’s the third time I’ve been able to play in the final here in Miami, which is an incredible achievement for me personally, and then I hope to be able to lift the biggest trophy once.”

Before his quarterfinal victory, Dimitrov called his relationship with the Miami event, where he had never made it past the fourth round, “interesting.” In fact, the Bulgarian’s last campaign in Florida almost ended shortly after it began, when he came within two points of defeat in the second set tie-break against Alejandro Tabilo in his first match.

Rescuing that situation seems to have been the catalyst Dimitrov needed to find his place at Hard Rock Stadium. Since then he has displayed some of his best tennis of the year, beating Yannick Hanfmann with just one lost game, getting rid of Hurkacz in a decisive tie-break, beating top seed Alcaraz, and keeping Zverev at bay. Can he now stop Sinner’s winning machine?

“After every game I felt like I was getting used to and acclimatizing to the weather, the balls, the courts and all that,” Dimitrov explained. “So it’s been a lot of difficult days in general: Wind, heat, humidity, rain, playing at night. So a lot of adjustments have had to be made.”

“I think that in itself gives me enormous confidence in being able to position myself, to prepare my body in the best possible way. Of course, with every victory you achieve, it is inevitable, you get more excited. The adrenaline goes through the roof. You want do better and more. Here we are, in the final.”


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