By Ros Satar, in Melbourne
- Rafael Nadal  v Grigor Dimitrov 
- Head-to-Head: Nadal leads 7-1
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Rafael Nadal’s comeback goes from strength to strength but is Grigor Dimitrov finally about to deliver on the promise he showed a few years ago?
Rafael Nadal  v Grigor Dimitrov  – H2H: Nadal leads 7-1
On the surface it looks like quite a hefty head to head to overturn. Rafael Nadal has been improving in confidence and the new addition of Carlos Moya to the team really seems to be working. For example in the Milos Raonic years, Moya had the rangy Canadian coming forward a lot more, and we saw a lot of that with Nadal on Wednesday night as he neutralised the big serve and came through a comfortable straight sets win.
The only thing that could give Grigor Dimitrov a little more confidence id that he won their last encounter in Beijing. But there is a lot more these days to the Bulgarian. He has admitted that his past almost play-boy existence cost him a fair bit in terms of tennis advancement – that much is clear as he reaches only his second Slam semi-final after Wimbledon 2014.
Dimitrov is the latest charge for Dani Vallverdu – formerly Andy Murray’s coach and then a stint with Tomas Berdych, where perhaps he had bitten off more than he could chew. Berdych almost lost that instinctive play, preferring to stick to the ‘game-plan’ – something that Vallverdu had excelled at when strategising for Murray. It looks like they are a closer fit though. Perhaps Dimitrov needed a younger, more dynamic coach to instil a little more discipline, and Vallverdu perhaps can incorporate a little more flexibility into the ‘game plan’
Dimitrov explained, after his straight sets win over David Goffin: “I think I’m taking better decisions when I come out on the court, better decisions in terms of points or how I’m going to play certain players or how I’m going to prepare, for example, before my matches. Little things that are important for me in order to come to the court.”
The draw could have been a set of banana-skins for Nadal – pushed to five sets by Alexander Zverev, and four by the mercurial Gael Monfils, but now faces a new improved Dimitrov, and deflected the question, with his usual style.
He told reporters: “He’s a player that have been on the tour for a lot of years already. He’s a player that has an unbelievable talent, unbelievable potential. He started the season playing unbelievable, no?
“Is going to be a very tough match for me. I hope for him, too. I going to try to play my best because I know he’s playing with high confidence.”
If Vallverdu has been doing his homework he will have seen that Nadal was quick to learn from the mistakes of his Brisbane loss to Raonic, changing his position on the court to neutralise Raonic. This match will be as much a battle of the strategies as it will be between the brutality of shot that zings off Nadal’s racquet with the single-handed backhand flyers from Dimitrov.
A couple of four setters for Dimitrov may leave him marginally fresher but there really is not much in it with a full day off for the pair of them. Whilst it would be great to see Dimitrov finally come good, it feels a little too soon for it to happen here.
Prediction: Nadal in five sets.
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