Grigor Dimitrov’s talent has never been in doubt but the 23-year-old Bulgarian showed here on Sunday that he has the mental strength to go with his outstanding ability. Dimitrov claimed his third title of the year by winning the Aegon Championships but had to save a match point before overcoming Feliciano Lopez 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 in a high-quality final.
It was a popular victory by the world No 13, who at the end presented his racket to Chris Kermode, the executive chairman and president of the Association of Tennis Professionals, which runs the men’s game. In his previous job as tournament director at Queen’s Kermode twice stuck his neck out by giving wild cards to Dimitrov, who was ranked outside the world’s top 350 at the time.
Dimitrov’s delight was evident in his leap of celebration. “This has always been a tournament that I’ve wanted to win,” he said. “I remember playing here as a teenager. Ever since then I have dreamt about that moment.”
Maria Sharapova, Dimitrov’s girlfriend, watched from the stands. “She’s just been unbelievable, with me throughout all the year so far and just supporting me,” he said. “The feeling is pretty mutual. I hope that’s not going to be the last tournament that she’s at. Having Maria on my side definitely adds up. There is a lot to learn from a tremendous champion like her.”
Many previous champions at Queen’s Club – including Andy Murray, last year’s winner – have gone on to Wimbledon glory. Dimitrov will head for the All England Club next week as the only player on the men’s tour who has claimed titles on three different surfaces this year, having won on hard courts in Acapulco and on clay in Bucharest.
“I’ll be going to Wimbledon with a lot of positive vibes,” he said. “I’ll be trying to play my game the same way I did here, match by match.”
The final was an echo of grass-court tennis from yesteryear, with serves dominating and break points few and far between. There were just two breaks of serve in the whole two and a half hours.
Lopez, who won his last title on grass at Eastbourne 12 months ago, loves this surface. The 32-year-old Spanish left-hander, who beat Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek en route to the final, served beautifully and ventured up to the net at every opportunity.
Dimitrov saved two set points in the first tie-break but eventually cracked as Lopez won it 10-8. It was when he served at 5-6 in the second set that Dimitrov showed great mental resilience. At 15-30 down the Bulgarian was winning the rally when a bad line call led to the point being replayed. Dimitrov went on to win the point with a splendid backhand cross-court pass and saved a match point later in the game when Lopez netted a return of serve.
When Dimitrov won the second set tie-break 7-1 it seemed likely he would run away with the third set, but Lopez broke in the opening game and held his lead until double-faulting on break point in the eighth game. The match went to a third tie-break. Dimitrov messed up a forehand on his first match point at 6-5 as the ball clipped the frame of his racket, but on his second, two points later, Lopez netted a forehand.
Jamie Murray and John Peers hope to be seeded in the Wimbledon doubles after their good showing here this week. They beat the Bryan brothers en route to yesterday’s final, in which they lost 4-6, 7-6, 10-4 to Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares. The day ended with the Murray brothers, Ross Hutchins, Victoria Azarenka, Heather Watson and Martina Hingis playing charity matches as part of the “Rally for Bally”, in memory of the Briton Elena Baltacha, who died of liver cancer last month at the age of 30.