An Australian Open rematch is on the cards when Grigor Dimitrov takes on lucky loser Denis Istomin for a place in the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament quarter-finals in Rotterdam on Thursday.
Grigor Dimitrov targets a sixth win on the bounce when he squares off against Denis Istomin in the second round of Rotterdam in the first feature match on Thursday night.
It’s been a whirlwind start to 2017 for Dimitrov and the Bulgarian is showing no signs of slowing down this week at the ATP 500 tournament in Rotterdam. Following on from capturing his second ATP World Tour title of the season at his home event in Sofia last week, Dimitrov made the quick transition to Rotterdam, recovering from a set down to dispatch the in-form Mischa Zverev 6-7(4) 6-2 6-4 in his opener on Wednesday.
"It's another week now, another challenge and another opportunity to win. All eyes on that and focusing ahead," Dimitrov said on Wednesday.
Dimitrov, who is currently third in the Emirates ATP Race to London after winning the Brisbane International and making a run to the semi-finals of the Australian Open in January, is playing arguably the best tennis of his career in a resurgence that can be traced back to the American summer last year.
A stellar 15-1 record to open 2017 means that Dimitrov is making a rapid push towards re-entering the top 10 - and he will achieve that feat if he can emerge with the Rotterdam silverware this week. After knocking off David Goffin in the Sofia final on Sunday, Dimitrov admitted it was challenging backing up in Rotterdam just a couple of days later.
"I think it’s always difficult when you change your whole atmosphere, with a different court, different balls, which didn’t make it any easier today," Dimitrov said. "I just had to keep on playing and fighting at the level I thought I could do. I’m very pleased to get another win, there were a lot of obstacles out there and I think I handled it pretty well."
Denis Istomin (Photo by PAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty Images)
Dimitrov will take on a man he has already defeated in 2017 for a place in the quarter-finals.
Denis Istomin’s eventful season continued over the weekend in Rotterdam. The 30-year-old lost his final round qualifying match 7-6 6-3 to Aljaz Bedene, however he advanced into the main draw as a lucky loser when Roberto Bautista Agut withdrew due to an elbow injury. By chance, Istomin would draw Bedene again in the first round, but this time he would reverse the scoreline and the outcome of the match, winning 6-3 7-6 to secure his spot in the second round.
Obviously Istomin’s highlight of 2017 came at the Australian Open, where he shocked the world with a stunning five-set victory over six-time champion Novak Djokovic in the second round. Istomin produced the performance of his life to take down the World No. 2, with his flat, powerful groundstrokes blasting Djokovic off the court.
Istomin wasn’t done in Melbourne - he conquered Pablo Carreno Busta in another gruelling five set encounter in the third round, but that taxing showdown may have contributed to his demise against Dimitrov in the Round of 16. Istomin began the match in superb fashion (perhaps taking advantage of Dimitrov’s 2am R32 finish), but the Uzbek sustained a left leg issue mid-way through the match, with Dimitrov ultimately prevailing 2-6 7-6(2) 6-2 6-1.
Istomin illustrated his ability to trouble Dimitrov, and if he had snatched that second set tiebreak and not fallen victim to his leg injury, he could have easily run away with the match. This time it will be Dimitrov who could be feeling fatigued after his big week in Sofia. Istomin remains an unpredictable talent, so I’ll stick with the new-and-improved Dimitrov, but this could turn into a very interesting encounter.