The Aegon Championships in West London have always had a special place in Grigor Dimitrov's affections. Five years ago, as a raw 18-year-old, the Bulgarian was given a wild card by Chris Kermode, who was then tournament director. Dimitrov has returned every year since and yesterday underlined his growing potential by beating Stanislas Wawrinka 6-2 6-4 to reach this afternoon's final. He faces Feliciano Lopez, who beat Radek Stepanek 7-6 6-4.
Dimitrov was ranked outside the world's top 350 in 2009 and was making his way on the Futures and Challenger circuits, but Kermode recognised a special talent in the 2008 Wimbledon junior champion. He gave him another wild card 12 months later.
Both men have moved on since then. Kermode is now the executive chairman of the Association of Tennis Professionals, which runs the men's game worldwide, while 23-year-old Dimitrov, the youngest player in the world's top 20, is one of the sport's most exciting prospects. Today will be his first appearance in the final here. "I always wanted to be in a final out here," Dimitrov said. "This has always been one of the biggest events for me."
Wawrinka, right, was reduced to smashing his racket in frustration. The 29-year-old Swiss, who won his first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, was outplayed by an opponent who clearly feels at home on grass.
With moisture in the air, the surface was trickier than it had been all week. Dimitrov, serving well and going for his shots, won four games in a row from 2-2 in the first set. Wawrinka held firm in the early stages of the second, but his best chance evaporated when Dimitrov served his way out of trouble from 1-2 and 15-40 down. Dimitrov broke to lead 4-3 and in the following game Wawrinka trashed his racket in spectacular fashion. Having hurled it at the back fence, he then repeatedly thumped it into the ground before completing the job by breaking it across his knee.
After 61 minutes Dimitrov served out for victory, completing the job with an ace. Having never reached a final before the start of last year, he will today go for his third title of 2014 on a third different surface following triumphs on hard courts in Acapulco and on clay in Bucharest.
Dimitrov acknowledged that he had benefited from extra time to practise on grass following his first-round defeat to Ivo Karlovic at Roland Garros, but admitted: "I was really down after the French Open. I didn't touch a racket for around five or six days after that. It was painful. I kept dwelling on it every day."
Lopez, who won his last title on grass at Eastbourne last summer, generally had the upper hand on Stepanek. The Spaniard, who had to save only one break point, won the tie-break 9-7 and made the only break of serve midway through the second set. He won his only previous meeting with Dimitrov here four years ago.
Wawrinka said he had been happy with his week's work and felt in good shape for Wimbledon, which starts in eight days. Although ranked No 3 in the world, the Swiss is set to be seeded No 5 at Wimbledon, which is the only tournament which does not replicate the world rankings in deciding its seedings, giving instead extra weight to grass-court results.
Novak Djokovic is expected to be seeded No 1 at the All England Club ahead of Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Roger Federer. The latter will attempt to retain his title in Halle when he meets Alejandro Falla in this afternoon's final.
Ana Ivanovic faces Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in today's final of the Aegon Classic at Edgbaston, which along with Queen's and Eastbourne will stage exhibition mixed doubles matches as part of the "Rally for Bally" in memory of Elena Baltacha, who died last month.