Thursday, May 24, 2018
Sports

Two droughts of lesser aridity end

MELBOURNE, Australia — Compared with Mirjana Lucic-Baroni's 18-year gap between Grand Slam semifinal appearances, the 21/2-year droughts of Grigor Dimitrov and Rafael Nadal were a short wait. But for each man, being among the final four at the Australian Open is a welcome return to form.

The 15th-seeded Dimitrov, who had not reached the last four at a Grand Slam event since Wimbledon in 2014, rolled into the Australian Open semifinals with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory over 11th-seeded David Goffin on Wednesday.

The ninth-seeded Nadal, who had fallen short of the semifinal stage since winning the 2014 French Open, followed with a 6-4, 7-6 (9-7), 6-4 victory over third-seeded Milos Raonic.

Dimitrov, a 25-year-old Bulgarian, was a junior standout tipped to be a future champion. With graceful movement and a one-handed backhand, he was quickly called "Baby Federer" by observers unafraid of setting lofty expectations. Like Roger Federer, Dimitrov had his best early results on grass, including an upset of defending champion Andy Murray at Wimbledon in 2014. He soared to No. 8 in the ATP rankings.

But his game too often bent under pressure, and two years after his breakout semifinal, which he lost to Novak Djokovic, Dimitrov fell to 40th.

Last summer, Dimitrov found the right guidance in Dani Vallverdu, a former coach of Murray and Tomas Berdych. Vallverdu said he had a "very honest chat" with Dimitrov before agreeing to work with him. In their seven months together, Dimitrov is back in the top 20.

In the first week of this season, Dimitrov beat three top-10 opponents — Dominic Thiem, Raonic and Kei Nishikori — on the way to a title in Brisbane, Australia, which has contributed to his 10-0 record thus far.

Nadal, 30, is regarded as the paragon of intensity within tennis. But with injuries piling up, his ability to summon his imposing best became less reliable. A 14-time major champion, Nadal had gone 10 Grand Slam events without a semifinal appearance. Before that run, he had never had a Grand Slam semifinal drought of more than three tournaments since winning his first major title at the 2005 French Open.

Nadal said he was excited just to be back in the final rounds of the most important events.

"For me, is great news again," he said. "Is a good start of the season. "Now I have a very tough match against Dimitrov."

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