At the start of Wimbledon, Grigor Dimitrov said the next generation of tennis stars was “around the corner.” This week, they arrived.
Dimitrov, 23, moved to his first Grand Slam semifinal by beating defending men’s champion Andy Murray in straight sets on Centre Court yesterday. His win came a day after 14-time major singles champion Rafael Nadal of Spain was knocked out of the fourth round by Australian wild card entrant Nick Kyrgios, 19.
“We want to win,” the 11th-seeded Dimitrov of Bulgaria said in a news conference. “The younger guys, we want to come on that stage. We strive for this. We’re thirsty for that. We want to prove ourselves.”
The four tennis Grand Slam events have been won by Murray, Nadal, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic since the 2004 French Open with three exceptions: Russia’s Marat Safin at the 2005 Australian Open, Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro at the 2009 U.S. Open and Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka at this year’s Australian Open.
“Everyone’s starting to get better,” Murray, 27, said in a news conference after his 17-match win streak at Wimbledon ended with a forehand in the net, his 37th error of the match. “The younger guys are now obviously becoming more mature and improving all the time.”
Although he’s been widely regarded as a potential top-10 player since he was a teenager, Dimitrov finally broke through this season. Nicknamed “Baby Fed” because of his single-handed backhand, Dimitrov made the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and is seeded at a career-best No. 11 at Wimbledon after winning three titles in 2014, including a grass-court tournament at Queen’s Club in London before Wimbledon. He’s credited his new coach, Roger Rasheed, with improving his fitness.
Dimitrov plays men’s top seed Djokovic in the semifinals tomorrow after the six-time major champion from Serbia yesterday overcame Croatian Marin Cilic in five sets. Seven-time winner Federer of Switzerland plays Canada’s Milos Raonic in the other semifinal. Federer yesterday beat Wawrinka in four sets to move to his 35th major semifinal while Raonic ended the run of Kyrgios.
“We have these youngsters coming up, fearless on the court, hitting the ball, not caring who is across the net,” Djokovic, 27, said in a news conference. “It’s good for tennis to see that, because we lacked a little bit of successful teenagers in the last 10 years or so.”
It takes players longer to develop because they have to perfect their service and ground strokes, according to four-time Wimbledon champion Rod Laver.
“To me it looks like you’ve got everybody playing a faster game, maybe serving, big forehands,” the 75-year-old Australian, who won all four major championships in a row in 1962 and 1969, said in a news conference at Wimbledon yesterday. “You’ve got to develop that to be competitive.”
There has also been a changing of the guard in the women’s game at Wimbledon, where Czech Petra Kvitova is the only former champion in today’s semifinal line-up after French Open winner Maria Sharapova, 27, lost in the fourth round and five-time champion Serena Williams, 32, was upset in the third round.
The 24-year-old Kvitova, still the only player born in the 1990s to have won a major singles title, plays compatriot Lucie Safarova for a spot in the championship match today.
Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, at 20 one of the rising stars on the women’s tour who has made three straight major semifinals this season, plays third-seeded Simona Halep of Romania, 22. Halep, runner-up to Sharapova at Roland Garros last month, beat Germany’s Sabine Lisicki in straight sets yesterday.
“It’s a normal evolution as great champions get a little older and new players come in,” Bouchard said yesterday after she moved to her first Wimbledon semifinal. “It’s an exciting time.”
Kvitova said breaking through as a young player had been “very difficult” because the older generation, such as 17-time major singles winner Williams and 32-year-old Li Na of China, the Australian Open champion, have been so strong.
“I am not sure how I did it,” Kvitova said in an interview in Eastbourne, England, before Wimbledon. “I still cannot really explain why.”