Grigor Dimitrov looks to return to winning ways at the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters on Wednesday when he takes on qualifier Jan-Lennard Struff in the second round.
Grigor Dimitrov’s sublime start to the season has lost signifiant steam over the last couple of months, and the Bulgarian will be hoping to re-discover his best form as he begins his European clay court campaign at the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters against big-hitting qualifier Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany. Dimitrov, a two-time quarter-finalist in Monte Carlo, has lost four of his last five matches, with all is good work at the start of 2017 starting to unravel. As a result, it comes as no surprise that this is shaping as a must-win for Dimitrov. But Struff, who won his first ever main draw Monte Carlo match on Tuesday, will have other ideas. Who will emerge triumphant when Dimitrov and Struff take to court around 3.30pm local time on Wednesday (2.30pm BST).
Dimitrov was one of the form players over the first couple of months of the season, defeating three top 10 players (Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori) to win the Brisbane International title, while he backed that result up with a run to the semi-finals of the Australian Open - just his second major semi - where he ultimately bowed out to Rafael Nadal in five sets. Dimitrov continued his great run of form into his home event of Sofia, winning the title in front of a rapturous crowd before going on to reach the quarter-finals of Rotterdam.
With Dimitrov showcasing new-found grit, determination and a competitive spirit (and a love for tennis once more), the Bulgarian was looming as one of the men to beat as the intense Indian Wells/Miami double got underway in North America throughout March. However Dimitrov was extremely underwhelming and failed to make an impact at either, losing to Jack Sock in the third round at Indian Wells and Guido Pella in the second round of Miami.
Furthermore, Dimitrov accepted a somewhat confusing wildcard into the lowly Grand Prix Hassan II clay court event in Marrakech last week, even though he was scheduled to play an exhibition event in Monte Carlo on the Saturday, when the semi-finals in Morocco were being played. Dimitrov promptly lost in three sets to current World No. 385 Tommy Robredo in his opening match and ended up playing in that aforementioned Monte Carlo exhibition on the weekend.
So, considering his current stretch of poor form, questions have to be asked of Dimitrov. Can he recapture his sparkling form of earlier this season, or is the 25-year-old slipping back into old habits and about to experience a dismal patch similar to his level of 2015 and most of 2016? With all that in mind, this is looming as a critical clash for Dimitrov. Definitely not season-defining, but we will be heading to that stage if the bad losses continue.
Jan-Lennard Struff (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
With Dimitrov struggling for form, Jan-Lennard Struff will certainly fancy his chances of creating the upset on Wednesday in Monte Carlo.
Struff, the current World No. 58 who is capable of some explosive tennis, has been playing quite well as of late, reaching the quarter-finals of Marrakech (falling to eventual finalist Philipp Kohlschreiber in three sets), while he also made the third round of Miami, which included a 6-1 6-1 demolition of Gilles Simon in the second round. Struff eclipsed Dimitrov’s results in both events and crushed a player that stretched Novak Djokovic to 7-5 in the third. He’s certainly got the form edge heading into this contest.
Bursting onto the scene a few years ago, Struff has struggled to put his game together on the biggest stages, suffering 10 first round exits in grand slams and three opening round defeats in Masters 1000 events, but he did make some headway at the end of last season, registering his first top 10 win over Stan Wawrinka en route to the third round of the Paris Masters, while he also notched up three wins over the course of last month’s Indian Wells/Miami swing.
Struff also has the benefit of already adjusting to the Monte Carlo conditions having won three matches this week - two in qualifying over Paul-Henri Mathieu and Pierre-Hugues Herbert and one over rising Norwegian talent Casper Ruud in the main draw.
Dimitrov won their only tour-level meeting four years ago in Stockholm, but Struff is a much better player today. This could turn into a really interesting tussle. Dimitrov is under pressure and needs some wins quickly, while Struff is capable of hitting him off the court and has been playing well recently. I’ll still have to side with Dimitrov due to his great early-season form, but a Struff upset wouldn’t be surprising.