Grigor Dimitrov shows no mercy to Luke Saville

Andy Murray, in the same half of draw as Bulgarian, coasts to a 6-1 6-1 6-0 victory over Blaz Rola

If Andy Murray slapped down a declaration with his sobering straight set – 6-1 6-1 6-0 – win over Blaz Rola, an equally dispassionate Grigor Dimitrov called his hand a couple of hours later on Centre Court. There were semaphores flashing around the tournament yesterday and while the players deny it, Dimitrov would have caught the eye of more than just his girlfriend Maria Sharapova.

The defending champion and Dimitrov may meet in the quarter-finals, with Murray the favourite, although, in the 23-year-old, the Scott can expect to face a player with bite and on the rise.

Much has been said of the third seed's relaxed mood this year but as always the best thing to shatter mellow is when things begin to go the way of your opponent and improvisation comes into play. Murray's reaction to real adversity, if he meets the Bulgarian, may tell something of the early influence of his coach Amelie Mauresmo.

Dimitrov was delayed longer than the economical champion's 84-minute dismissal of Rola after his momentum lurched down a gear in the third set as Australian Luke Saville switched up his tactics to more serve and volley. It was astute although tinged with desperation as 20-year-old Saville was spiralling towards the exit with few surprised at that conclusion.


Saville, ranked 236 in the world, lower than Ireland's James McGee (223) and much lower than Conor Niland (129) before his retirement, came through the qualifying system and his final match there against Switzerland's Yann Marti was the first five-set match he ever played at tour level.

Weary journey

Afterwards he signed his full name on the giant tennis balls thrust at him on his weary journey to the locker rooms and gave pens back to their rightful owners. He’ll learn.

Like the Irish players, Saville competes mainly on the ITF Futures and ATP Challenger circuits so he could savour his time on the Centre Court as Dimitrov made his way into the third round for the first time 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

“I’m pretty confident at the moment,” said Dimitrov, who came into Wimbledon on the back of a win on the grass at the Queen’s Club. “A lot of shots are in place. I had to be really composed for the whole match. Felt comfortable. I’m not done yet.”

The change that put him on a top-10 player trajectory was when he hired coach Roger Rasheed last year. Rasheed is known for his stiff work ethic and Dimitrov's "workaholic" tendencies allowed him love the concept. His fitness and strength have increased, which has in turn improved his shot making.

He flicked around the court and although sometimes impetuous his athleticism and all round game impressed the tennis buffs, his matinee idol looks drawing an entirely different and younger cohort.

Hone here

If the former junior Wimbledon champion is to make it further than his first ever Grand Slam third round, he will have to negotiate the carpet bombing Alexandr Dolgopolov.

The Ukrainian hit 42 aces to Benjamin Becker’s nine to secure a 6-7(4) 7-6 (0) 6-3 6-4 meeting tomorrow. Patience is another skill to hone here.

“It feels natural for me to come and compete at that level and I feel excited. But you’ve got to be really optimistic as well. I’m here for the long haul,” added Dimitrov.

To further cement the feeling that there has been a nine-year road block to major championships by four players, Federer, Nadal, Murray and Djokovic, the Serbian top seed rolled over Radek Stepanek for two sets then just held together to win in four 6-4, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6.

For the first two sets Djokovic lightly danced around Centre Court, fell into the splits, slugged, volleyed, fetched, feathered and delighted all but the 35-year-old Czech veteran across the net.

Stepanek’s natural facial expressions range from doleful to mildly distressed and that rarely changed even as he managed to rattle his good friend, who he practised with seven days ago. The first frisson of excitement arrived when Stepanek rallied in the third set.

Evening sessions

It has always been the prerogative of underdogs in the boozy, evening sessions on Centre Court to twist the narrative. And many upsets have come on the back of energy switching from one player to another, the crowd falling in behind and the seed becoming spooked.

So it was that Djokovic managed to flap Boris Becker in the coaches box as he wavered in the third set tiebreaker and managed to lose from 5-2 up. The crowd rose to the possibility of a fourth set and possible upset as Djokovic was clearly nervous and feeling his way.

The fourth set was taken to another tiebreak, this time the 2011 champion killing it on the first match point with a cross court forehand, a challenge from Stepanek keeping with the mood of the animated crowd.

But Hawkeye said the ball was good, Djokovic sheepishly departing Centre Court more relived than pumped.

So ‘the blockage’ inexorably moved forwards, faltering somewhat with Djokovic but none of it a worry to the young Bulgarian.

“In a way it’s nice to see,” said Dimitrov with the cheery optimism of a young player discovering his own possibilities.

“The same time it pushes you to your limits of your work. I think especially the young generation, we all want to push through those slams and start winning a few, which I believe in around the corner for any one of us.”

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times